November 19, 2015
In this weeks Sedra of Vayeitzei, Yaakov sets out from the sanctity of the Promised Land, home of his parents, from Beer Sheva the world of the tzadikim and the righteous, to go to the impure country outside it, to Lavan and the world of liars, of idolaters, of violence and evil.
It was therefore a necessary part of the Divine Wisdom that in order to get the prophecy and G-d’s promise of protection, essential spiritual strength, he should first pass through that place that is called Makom. That is why it is written ‘he was impressed by the place’ and not he chanced or lighted on, happened on or encountered. “And Avraham saw the Makom from afar- and called it Behar Hashem Yeiraeh”; that was the altar of the Akeidah.
That was also the Makom that God chose to place His Name, where Israel would build the Mikdash. Telling us of Yaakov’s coming there, the verse (25:11) uses Makom three times, to refer to the three Mikdashim – that of Shlomo, that of Olei Bavel, and that of the End of Days. The first was destroyed so the text refers to the setting of the sun, the second had diminished sanctity so he took only of the stones but not all of them, and the third will mark the tranquility, the rest and the peace of the world and so he lay down there to sleep.
Abarbanel discusses 8 different approaches of various commentators to Yaakov’s dream. Then continues to present his own explanation that is [to quote]“the logical, clear and most tending to the intelligent”.
Yaakov feared that Eisav would try to kill him, knowing that he was all alone, poor and in a strange place. Alternatively, he feared that his supplanting Eisav’s blessing was not honest and ethical in the eyes of Hashem and as a result he would be punished. So the dream came to convince him that his actions were acceptable and right in Gocfd’s sight and therefore he would indeed receive the Abrahamic blessing of the Land, Divine protection and be the 12 Tribes.
The ladder that was firmly placed on the ground but whose head reached the heavens was to tell him that the Temple would be established there, as if the ladder was planted in the Kodesh Hakodashim so that Divine Radiance, eternal closeness to Him and vigilant protection would cover his descendants as promised to Avraham.
For the same reason the angels were ascending and descending; the first to take up the smell of the sacrifices as well as the many prayers and supplications offered in the Mikdash, while the others brought down salvation, blessings and to demonstrate a world of providence and ecstasy. “And God stood next to him- I am Hashem of Avraham and Yitzchak ” , showing that He would stand by Yaakov as with the Avot and that he, not Ishmael or the sons of the concubines, would inherit the promise of Eretz Yisrael.
When Yaakov awoke, he took an oath that seems to represent a problem of faith and religious belief. He said, “If God be with me on this path that I am treading, and will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father ‘s house, then He shall be G-d to me …. And everything that G-d will give mre I shall tithe unto You” (25:20-22).
Firstly, we should note that he asks only for the basic requirements and a bare minimum of material things, in contrast to the abundance and plenty promised him. [This idea of modesty in material needs and wants is a pattern repeated, with Yaakov as the example, in our prayers, for example, the congregational prayer at the conclusion of ‘birkat cohanim’ on chagim].
However, the wording of our verses makes Hashem’s being his God, dependent on the fulfillment of his requests; that would be a lack of real faith. “Do not be like the servants that serve in order to receive rewards” (Avot, chapter 1, mishnah 3). Ramban avoids this difficulty by seeing the text as merely using common human speech, so that the verse is not to be taken as an expression of dependency.
Abarbanel explains that Yaakov made a distinction in time between himself, the beneficiary of the requests and the future generations for whom the realization of these blessings in Yaakov would serve as an affirmation that Hashem, who had promised the blessings, was really his God.
Yaakov’s need for affirmation for the truth of the Divine message lay not in a lack of belief but rather in doubt as to whether it was prophecy or just a dream. The Rambam classifies the dream as the lowest form of prophecy and the meeting face to face, as in the case only of Moshe, as the highest. In the dream the prophet is unaware of the divinity of his experience since he is asleep and lacks the physical, spiritual, mental or moral preparation necessary for Divine Revelation.
In addition, this was the first revelation ever granted to Yaakov so that he had no ability to judge the difference between a self- induced wishful dream and the message of God given prophecy.
We see a parallel in this, when Hashem appeared to Shmuel Hanavi for the first time, -“And the word of the Lord was scarce and precious in those day; there was no frequent vision …..Now Shmuel did not yet know of the Lord neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him” ( 1 Samuel, 3:1; 7). So when he heard Hashem calling to him for the first time, which was in his sleep, Shmuel thought that Eli, the Kohen Hagadol, calling him and so ran to his room; it was only after the third time, at Eli’s instruction that Shmuel acknowledged that indeed it was the beginning of prophecy. “ And Shmuel grew, and the Lord was with him. And all Israel knew that Shmuel was established to be a prophet” .
So too, Yaakov wanted affirmation that this vision and the promise of Divine protection, the Promised Land and the Holy Nation that was to come from him, was Revelation not merely an idle dream.