By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
In the continuous act of going ‘vayeilech’, Yaakov sets out from the
sanctity of the Promised Land, home of his parents, from Beer Sheva the
world of the tzadickim 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 G-d chose to place His Name,
where Israel would build the Mikdash. Telling us of Yaakov’s coming there,
the verse (25:11) uses Makom 3 times, to refer to the 3 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 2nd 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 G-d’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 G-d stood next to him- I am Hashem of Avraham and Yitschak ”
(13), 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
When Yaakov awoke, he took an oath that seems to represent a problem of
faith and religious belief. He said, “If G-d 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 G-d,
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. He [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 G-d.
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 G-d 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 3rd
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” (13).
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.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.