מרן רה"י הרב שבתי סבתו | ו כסלו התשעח | 24.11.2017
הרב שבתי סבתו
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
That Very Place
The Evening Prayer
Parashat Vayetze begins with Yaakov Avinu's departure from his parents' home, escaping the vengeance of his brother Esav as he heads towards his uncle Lavan in Haran. On his way, we read that he arrives in a certain place as the sun is setting, and camps out for the night: וַיִּפְגַּע , "He came to the place and rested there, for the sun had set." (B'reshit 28,11)
The Torah itself gives us no hint as to what place this is, or that Yaakov did anything other than sleep here. Our Sages, however, taught in the Talmud that it was here that he instituted, for generations to come, the evening prayer known as Arvit (Maariv). Their teaching is based on a comparison with a verse in the Book of Jeremiah, which uses a similar word:וְאַל תִּפְגַּע בִּי , "And you, do not raise a cry or prayer for this nation, and do not plead to Me" (Yirmiyahu 7,16).
Both verses use a word from the root p(f)-g-a'. G-d uses this word to tell Yirmiyahu not to pray or plead for the sinful nation, and the Talmud derives that when the Torah uses the same root here in Vayetze, it means not that Yaakov "encountered" the place, but rather that he stood and prayed.
However, just as the verse in Jeremiah specifies "Do not plead to Me," there must be a similar object of Yaakov's prayer. Does the verse here mean to say, "He prayed to the place"? The explanation is that the word for "place" – מקום, makom – is an allusion to Hashem Himself, known as "the place of the world." As our Sages explain in the Medrash:
- Ami said: Why is Hashem known as HaMakom, the Place? – Because He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place [i.e., it cannot contain Him], as is written (Shmot 33,21), "Behold, there is a place with Me." (B'reshit Rabba 68,6)
Based on these two insights, it can clearly be inferred that when we read "Yaakov came to the place," it means that he "pleadingly prayed to G-d" in that spot. Though this explanation may not appear to correspond with the plain meaning of the verse, let us see how Chazal's understanding was quite on the mark.
The Torah often gives us advance hints of what is about to transpire. It does so by telling us facts that appear to be irrelevant to the story at hand, but which later prove to be critical foundations of the narrative. For instance, in Parashat Toldot, immediately before we read how Yaakov strategized to receive his father's blessing, the Torah tells us something seemingly irrelevant to the context:
וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו בֶּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה אֶת יְהוּדִית בַּת בְּאֵרִי הַחִתִּי...
וַתִּהְיֶיןָ מֹרַת רוּחַ לְיִצְחָק וּלְרִבְקָה
When Esav was forty years old, he took a wife - Yehudit daughter of Be'eri the Hittite...
and [his wives] were a source of bitterness for Yitzchak and Rivkah.
What does this have to do with either Yitzchak's wells of the preceding verses, or the stolen blessings that come right afterward? The answer is that these details play the important role of preparing us for what is to come later on when Yaakov is forced to leave his parents' home. In the midst of his preparations for his departure, suddenly his mother Rivkah tells Yitzchak:
קַצְתִּי בְחַיַּי מִפְּנֵי בְּנוֹת חֵת
אִם לֹקֵחַ יַעֲקב אִשָּׁה מִבְּנוֹת חֵת כָּאֵלֶּה מִבְּנוֹת הָאָרֶץ, לָמָּה לִּי חַיִּים?
I am disgusted with these daughters of Het; if Yaakov marries such a Hittite girl,
from the daughters of this land, why should I live? (27,46)
Rivkah does not want her husband to know that Yaakov needs to run away from Esav. Instead, she says that she does not want him to do what Esav did and marry a Hittite girl. Yitzchak immediately agrees, and instructs Yaakov where to go in order to marry a proper wife: "Do not take a wife from the girls of Canaan; arise and go to Padan Aram, and marry a daughter of Lavan, your mother's brother." (B'reshit 28,1-2)
We thus see how an earlier verse that seemed to be out of place plays an important part in the development of the story.
Let us bring another example from the story of Shimshon (Samson) the Mighty. We know that after two futile attempts, his wife Delilah finally gets him to reveal to her the source of his great strength: His long, Nazirite hair. Delilah immediately calls her fellow Plishtim to come and cut it off: "Delilah called the man and she cut off the seven locks of his hair… his strength ebbed out of him… the Plishtim held him and took his eyes out... and they shackled him in brass, and he became a grinder in the prison." (Judges 16, 19-22)
The next verse of this story tells us a seemingly marginal detail: "And the hair of his head began to grow, just as it was shaved." At first, we don't know what this verse is doing here. But later, we understand that when Shimshon "brought down the house" and killed the thousands of wicked Plishtim inside it – the process started right here. Shimshon had prayed to G-d for the strength to grasp onto the pillars of the building and bring them down, but it was not only his prayers that helped him. It was very much also the fact that the hair that Hashem instructed not to cut had begun to grow back - enough for the G-dly inspiration to return to him. This verse details how the slow process of growing hair reached the point where it brought down a stadium on its thousands of evil occupants.
Let us return to Parashat VeYetze, and see how "irrelevant" details there are actually quite significant.
He Arrived at the Place
The word "place" appears in Vayetze's second verse no fewer than three times – each time appearing to note a detail of little consequence. Verse 11 reads as follows:
וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשׁתָיו וַיִּשְׁכַּב בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא
He came to the place and rested there...
and he took from the stones of the place and put them under his head
and he slept in that place.
In order to ascertain what important significance these seemingly insignificant details have, as above, let us itemize them: The first mention is Yaakov's encounter with the place; the second refers to his preparation of the place for his use; and the third mentions his using the place. In short: 1) encounter, 2) preparation, and 3) usage.
The Torah could have written simply: "On his way, he lay down and dreamt" – without mentioning "the place" even once! We will see, however, the significance of the Torah's three mentions, in this specific order, of the word bamakom, "the place."
After Yaakov awakens from his dream of the angels and the Heavenward ladder, he relates to each of the previous three mentions of "the place" with his own parallel mention of "the place," thus giving a spiritual dimension to each one. He first says:
אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה' בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי
Truly Hashem is in this place, and I did not know. (verse 16)
Yaakov is saying: "It's true that last night, I encountered Hashem – the makom – but I did not know that in that physical spot, He would reveal Himself to me in my dream of the ladder." The Sages' understanding of "He came to the place" now fits the plain meaning of the verse: Yaakov encountered Hashem for the Maariv prayer, without knowing that Hashem would reveal Himself in the dream of the ladder.
The next verses tell us of preparation:
וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה! אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אֱ-לֹהִים.
וַיִּקַּח אֶת הָאֶבֶן אֲשֶׁר שָׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו...
Yaakov was frightened and said: How awe-inspiring is this place! It must be the House of G-d... And he took the stone he had placed under his head… (verses 17,18)
That is, after we read in verse 11 that he "placed from the stones of the place under his head," we now see that he realizes this was not a regular place, but rather a base for Divine revelation. What we thought beforehand was just a place in which to prepare for sleep, has become a base for worship of Hashem.
וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא בֵּית אֵל
He called the name of that place Beit El. (verse 19)
Before, it was faceless – "that place" in which he slept – but now it has been dedicated with a name: The House of G-d, a permanent site of worship of G-d.
In short: The three stages – Divine revelation, preparation for service of G-d, and dedication as a permanent site of worship – have been upgraded from the physical plane to the exalted and spiritual.
Fulfilling the Vow
Thirty-four years later, after working for his uncle Lavan for 20 years and raising a large family, Yaakov returns home to the Land of Israel, together with his wives, children and wealth. He arrives first at the very place in which he famously dreamt of the ladder and the angels, remembering that he had then vowed to build a house of
G-d (28, 20-22). He fulfills his promise – and Hashem appears to him once again.
Here, too, the Torah emphasizes "the place" three times – and once again, each of them relates to the above points: 1) revelation, 2) preparation, and 3) dedication. The first is this:
וַיַּעַל מֵעָלָיו אֱ-לֹהִים בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ
G-d went up from him, in the place in which He had talked to him. (35,13)
This was the Divine revelation in "the place." This is followed by the second stage --
וַיַּצֵּב יַעֲקֹב מַצֵּבָה בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ
Yaakov established a pillar in the place in which He had talked to him. (verse 14)
-- which again is preparation of "the place" for the worship of G-d. And finally:
וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב אֶת שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ שָׁם אֱ-לֹהִים בֵּית אֵל
Yaakov called the name of that place in which G-d talked to him - Beit El. (verse 19)
The third stage, once again, is giving a name to "the place," as Yaakov dedicates the house he built around the altar as a permanent base for the worship of G-d.
At the Mountain of G-d
The roots of this entire concept signified by "the place" and its meanings began with Avraham Avinu, when he came to Mount Moriah to offer up his son as a sacrifice, as commanded by G-d. Remarkably, in this story too, the word hamakom, "the place," appears three times – and each time, it signifies one of the three stages mentioned above: 1) revelation, 2) preparation, and 3) dedication.
The first mention is this:
בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת הַמָּקוֹם מֵרָחֹק
On the third day, Avraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar. (B'reshit 22,4)
This is the first stage: Encountering the place, by seeing it from afar. The next stage is where Avraham prepares the place for the service of G-d:
וַיָּבאוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם... וַיִּבֶן שָׁם אַבְרָהָם אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַיַּעֲרֹךְ אֶת הָעֵצִים
They came to the place... and Avraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. (verse 9)
And finally, the third mention marks the giving of a name, marking it as a permanent site for the worship of G-d:
וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא ה' יִרְאֶה
Avraham called the name of the place "G-d will see." (verse 14)
To further clarify the picture, let us analyze more deeply this three-rung framework. As we have seen, the word hamakom, "the place," is mentioned thrice in each of these passages, for a total of nine – and in each passage, the Divine revelation intensifies. The first passage deals with Avraham at Mt. Moriah, where G-d sends an angel to speak with Avraham. The second passage is that of Yaakov's sleep, in which G-d reveals Himself, but only in a dream. And finally, when we read of Yaakov's return to the Land of Israel, Hashem reveals Himself in an actual prophecy to Yaakov. The progression is clear: First G-d sends an angel; then He appears in a dream; and finally, He issues a real prophecy.
In the real prophecy, G-d gives Yaakov the name Yisrael, and then the prophecy ends: "G-d ascended from above him, in the place in which He spoke to him." (35,13) This choice of words to describe G-d's departure shows that His revelation at this place had been a genuine attachment with Yaakov – an attachment that reminds us of this famous triple sanctity:
וְקָרָא זֶה אֶל זֶה וְאָמַר קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה' צְבָ-אוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ
[The angels] called to one another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the G-d of Hosts,
the entire world is filled with His glory." (Yeshayahu 6,1-3)
In other words, the Divine revelation gradually intensifies in holiness, to the point where "the entire world is filled with His glory."
Three Times a Year
Returning to Avraham, let us again quote the third verse in which "the place" receives its name and is designated for permanent service of G-d:
וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא ה' יִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר הַיּוֹם בְּהַר ה' יֵרָאֶה
Avraham called the name of the place "G-d will see," as it is said to this day:
"In the Mountain of G-d, He will be seen." (B'reshit 22,14)
Let us explain it as follows: The mountain, which is the place Avraham named "G-d will see," is the mountain to which we now – "this day" – ascend three times a year to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel, visiting and "being seen" before G-d at the Beit HaMikdash on the Three Festivals.
This now opens a window of understanding this mitzvah of visiting the place chosen by Hashem – Yerushalayim – three times a year. The verse tells us that "three times a year all your males shall be seen to Hashem your G-d in the place that He has chosen: on Pesach, on Shavuot, and on Sukkot." (Dvarim 16,16) Why three times?
Each of the three festivals corresponds, most fascinatingly, to the above three stages: 1) revelation, 2) preparation, and 3) dedication. As follows:
- The Pesach holiday marks G-d's revelation in Egypt on the midnight of the 15th day of Nissan.
- Shavuot symbolizes the preparation for the service of G-d, 50 days after the Exodus, at Mt. Sinai – the place about which G-d promised Moshe, "you will worship G-d at this mountain" (Shmot 3,12) after the Exodus. That is, by accepting and studying the Torah, the way is paved for service of Hashem.
- Sukkot is when we turn a little booth into a permanent home for service of G-d, in the shadow of the Divine Presence and the Clouds of Glory, as the Mishna states: "For these seven days, we make our booth permanent and our home temporary" (Sukkah 2,9) – dedicating the Sukkah to a week for Hashem.
Once again we see the three stages: Revelation on Pesach, preparation for G-dly service on Shavuot, and the permanent dedication on Sukkot.
On the other hand, on the Three Festivals, we also gradually raise up the world's closeness to Hashem: On Pesach, we bring the Paschal sacrifice from a lamb. On Shavuot, we also add vegetation to the sacrifice – the wheat offering. And on Sukkot, a non-living element is added in nisukh hamayim, a water libation over the sacrifices. The revelation of the Divine Presence thus extends even to the level of earth and stone.