By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
The Torah states: 28, 11, “He encountered the place and spent the night there…; He took from stones from the place which he arranged around his head and laid down in the place”. What is significant about the stones that it mentions?
Rashi explains that he took stones and formed them into a gutter pipe- all around his head for protection from the animals and one stone that he would rest his head upon. The stones quarreled as to which stone would gain the merit to have Yaakov rest his head upon. Immediately, Hashem unified all of them into one stone- that is the reason it says ‘stone’ and not ‘stones’.
One opinion is that there were twelve stones. In contradistinction to Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu, whose children chose different paths of life. Yaakov’s twelve children- the progenitors of the twelve tribes, all had one focus: to serve Hashem with total selfless dedication. The consolidation of the twelve stones was a ‘prophetic sign’ that this would occur.
A wealthy person who is world-renowned for his expertise in his field was very perturbed. “Why is it that I always feel anxious? When I am at my profession I ponder as to when I will be at home? At home I wonder when will I go on vacation? When will I go to the opera? To the restaurant? I am constantly thinking about another facet of life when engrossed in whatever I am doing at that moment!” This quandary, uneasiness and at times loneliness is endemic to human nature. How can we overcome this disillusionment?
Every day we repeatedly say the verse, “שמע ישראל ה’ אלוקינו ה’ אחד”, “Understand Yisroel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One.”. There are many ideas encapsulated in the Oneness of Hashem. The most important, basic idea that formulates one’s focus is that Hashem is One and only One, that all of one’s actions thoughts, and speech should be predicated on the awareness that one is in His world every second. It’s all about Him, not me! One must transcend any iota of self-absorption to be effective in this mode of life.
This transition from being self-centered to complete subservience to Hashem that is a result of one’s persistent appreciation of Hashem’s benefactions is the answer to the question. When one is ‘standing’ in front of Hashem, all of one’s actions are defined in a singular manner. Every action done in accord with the Torah’s teachings is a consistent, one-faceted journey throughout life, Yes, there are many compartments, but its all one dynamic, when one follows the Torah’s precepts.
Yaakov Avinu, our patriarch Jacob, was shown that from him the Jewish nation would evolve. Why him? Avrohom Avinu established the paradigm of Chessed, to selflessly and constantly strive to be of assistance and caring with love and compassion to anyone. Yitzchak Avinu established the paradigm of יראה, of total subservience to Hashem, even when it seems illogical or impossible. These two ideas seem at first to be in contradiction with one another. Yaakov Avinu, succeeded in synthesizing in harmony these two paradigms into one- Emes unadulterated truth, integrity, and honesty, as manifested by all of his children focused on their individual talents and how they are to be merged into a nation of greatness.
At the end of chapter 28, verses 20-21 it reads, ‘then Yaakov took a vow saying if Hashem will be with me and he will guard me on this way, I am going; and I will return in peace to my father’s house and Hashem will be a G-d to me… “והי’ יקוק לי לאלוקים”.
Harav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch explains: “Unlike ברכת כהנים, here the prayer for שמירה (preservation) preceded the prayer for ברכה (food and clothing, basic sustenance and social standing). This שמירה, then, cannot refer to material possession, which he did not yet possess, but rather, refers to the spiritual and moral assets he bore in himself.
The establishment of an independent household involves so many difficulties and hinges on circumstances and situations so complex, that a person needs special help from God so as not to forfeit the whole of his better self in gaining that piece of bread. Who can count the people who were morally pure before they set out on the ‘path to bread and clothing,’ but who subsequently for the sake of making a living and attaining social status, denied God, spurned morality, were inconsiderate of their neighbor, and of his human dignity, and so on.
Thus far, Yaakov has been studying Torah, but now he is setting out to seek a wife and sustenance for his family. The dangers involved seemed so grave that he first prays for the preservation of his character, that he not forfeit his spiritual and moral integrity. Integrity is the first thing that the ancestral Jew wishes for himself as he sets out to establish his home. Only then does he request ‘to me’- I.e., an independent livelihood, food, and clothing, so as to live respectably in society; in short: sustenance and social position. The third wish, is for peace, and finally בית אב, family ties that remain intact. If God grants me these, והיה ה’ לי לאלוקים. This too, is an ideal, which henceforth is to be realized, and which the final גאולה, redemption will look back upon.
When God preserves and blesses a person in the struggle for existence, He reveals Himself asיקוק , His trait of Mercy, and there is no one who would not wish for such treatment from God. But only the Jew says והיה ה’ לי לאלוקים, meaning: God, Who showered upon me the bounty of His Love and goodness, will be to me a God Who not only gives and bestows, but also demands that His Will be done with all that bounty. To accept upon yourself the yoke of the Lawgiver’s kingship, and not just thank Him for His Munificent blessing; to direct all the inclination of your heart, and to use every penny that you own, only in accordance with G-d’s Will- that is the meaning of ה’ לי לאלוקים. Thus God says in Bamidbar 15, 41 (we say it every day in קריאת שמע) “להיות לכם לאלוקים” “I redeemed you from Egypt in order that you live and refine in accordance with My Will.”
This is the idea of unity; it’s only about Him! When one personally imbues this in oneself, it is only natural that one experiences a sensation of unity with Klal Yisrael, the core stimuli to this all is the trait of אמת, unbridled integrity in all facets of one’s life, Yaakov Avinu having established this paradigm.