Thursday, November 07, 2013

Vayeitzei's Theme of Stone

Shprintza Herskovits (from whose sefer Rays of the Sun, the first half of the following piece is adapted) says there's a theme of stones in parshat VaYeitzei. She introduces her essay with the idea of asking people what association they come up with when you mention stones. She suggests that there are two camps: Some people will thinks of the stones that break your bones, slung since the earliest days of mankind. Others will think of rock solid structures, words written in stone, diamonds that are forever.

Yaakov sleeps on stones, then has a dream. When he wakes up he declares that he is in a place where G-d is. He makes the stone he slept on into an altar and declares that if G-d stays with him he will make the stone into a pillar in the House of G-d. A scene that follows features a well covered with a stone so heavy that a crowd of shepherds must gather together to remove it. Yaakov, after seeing Rochel, removes the stone by himself. Upon leaving Lavan's house Yaakov suggests that he and Lavan make a brit/covenant and the sign of the pact that he chooses is a stone.

The midrash says that Yaakov put together many stones to sleep on and they fought over who should have the prestige of having Yaakov rest on them. G-d then turned the many stones into one. This story is about fragmentation being transformed into unity. Perhaps Yaakov took the merging of the rocks as something that fit with the dream that he had awakened from and that's why he doesn't comment on it. Or, he doesn’t notice the change of the stones because it now blends into the theme of this place- divinity and oneness. This fits with the fact that Yaakov builds a matzeivah type of altar, which is from one stone, in contrast to the more common mizbeach, of several stones.

The Rashbam suggests that the reason why the shepherds kept the well covered with one giant stone was that they mistrusted each other. Their set up meant that they could only remove the rock all together. The stone thus represents the disunity that existed between them and also the unity that they needed to compose as the only was for any of them to get water from the well. On the other hand Yaakov was overwhelmed by a sense of connection upon seeing Rachel. The feeling that he'd met his soul mate gave him the strength to lift the stone all alone, and it filled him with the urge to remove something that was in place only due to disunity.

When Yaakov sees Rachel he cries. He has just been moved by a sense of oneness with his wife to be. And yet he cries out of the angst ridden existential realization that they would be together in life, separated by death. The pact between Yaakov and Lavan over a stone represents that whether or not they could stay together depended on whether they could connect or not. If disparity between them was inevitable then it was best that they go their separate ways.

Like so many things in life, stones can be positive or negative. They are not intrinsically bad or good, they can be used constructively or destructively by people. A lesson to be learned from the theme of stones in Parshat Vayeitzei.

Rabbi Dovid Miller also points out the theme of evehn - stone - in Vayeitzei. He notes that it continues into Vayishlach when Yaakov makes a matzeivah from an evehn. The word is used again in his brachah for Yosef. The word evehn appears for the first time in the Torah in connection with Yaakov.

Avraham's focus was on influencing people - chesed. Yitzchak was about depth, as represented by his digging of wells. This represents inner directed correction - gevurah. Yaakov was about tikkun olam. The stone is the basic building block of the world. The Medrash Rabbah says that because Yaakov was called Evehn Yisrael we merited getting the Torah, written on an evehn. He's about Torah. Kedosheinu Kedosh Yaakov. He's about elevating the world.

Perhaps Yitzchak wanted to give the physical brachot to Eisav because Yaakov was spiritually inclined. What Rivkah got was that Yaakov was about elevating the physical into the spiritual and holy.

This explains Yaakov's dream. The ladder, as Nefesh haChayim points out, represents man's soul which connects two worlds. Man also elevates the world; that's the concept of evehn Yisrael. Thus Yaakov was able to keep the Torah under Lavan, as that was his specialty- elevating even the most physical.

Rabbi Israel Miller said that G-d told Yaakov to leave Charan when he started having physically oriented dreams about sheep. Mesilat Yesharim says that once a person rules over himself then he can then elevate the world. This is Yaakov, as represented by the stones of Yaakov and the way they united to be used for holy service.


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