VayetzeL Fusing stones

Let's unpack Jacob's stones and see the message they carry.

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Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow


Jacob went to bed on a mountain and placed his head on twelve stones. In the morning, when he awoke, the twelve stones had fused into one. Our sages taught that during the night the angels in charge of these stones began to argue because each wanted to serve as Jacob’s pillow. G-d performed a miracle and fused the stones into one.

Let’s unpack these stones and the message that they carry. When Jacob gathered twelve stones it might have seemed random, but in retrospect it was calculated. Jacob was on his way to Haran, where he would marry and build his family. In all, Jacob would have twelve sons. This implies that Jacob knew exactly what he was doing when he gathered twelve stones. Not eleven and not thirteen. Just twelve.

Jacob knew he was on the Temple Mount, sleeping in the very spot that would one day become the Holy of Holies. Further, He knew that this section of the mountain hosted THE stone, the one our sages described as the foundational stone of the universe. G-d created the universe from one stone, which later expanded to the size of the universe.

Jacob knew that the stones he was gathering were sedimentary leftovers from the original foundational stone. He gathered twelve, corresponding to his twelve sons, and did so on G-d’s mountain, where the divine presence would one day be manifest.

When you pull all these pieces together you learn that Jacob gathered stones in prayer. As he approached the divine center of the universe, Jacob gathered twelve foundational stones, asking G-d that he be granted twelve sons, each one worthy of the tribes they would father. He further prayed that they be successful in the spiritual uplifting of the world for which these stones serve as foundation.

Jacob slept and dreamed of angels ascending and descending a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven. Our sages taught that G-d appeared to Jacob and foretold the suffering of Jacob’s descendants, but He also promised that in the end, the Jews would be successful. Rather than obliteration by their enemies, the Jews would survive and make this world a habitat for holiness and G-d.

Oneness

Jacob observed that the stones had fused into one. The message was that when we do G-d’s work, we can’t afford to get carried away by personal agendas. It cannot be about what I want, and you want, it must be about what G-d wants. If I want something different from you, if I look down on you, if I turn my nose at you, G-d is not present. If you and I merge, G-s is very much present.

When Reb Shlomo of Ropshitz was a child, his teacher taught him that in the prayer book, G-d’s name does not appear. Instead, two small dots, Yudenn in Yiddish, one beside the other, allude to the name of G-d. Therefore, his teacher told him, when you see two dots together, read it as if it says G-d’s name. 

In Hebrew, however, there is a vowel called Sh’va that is comprised of two small dots, one above the other like a colon. One day, as little Shlomo was reading the prayer book, he came across a colon and pronounced G-d’s name. The teacher told him that this was the vowel Sh’va. “But you told me,” countered the child, “that two small dots beside each other allude to G-d’s name.” “Ah,” replied the teacher, “when you see two Yuden beside each other, G-d is very much present. But when two Yuden are above each other, G-d is very much absent.

That is the message of Jacob’s fusing stones. When two Yuden, two Jews, are fused together, standing side by side, G-d is present. When one looks down on the other, G-d is not present. Therefore, when Jacob set out to build the Jewish nation, his twelve stones became one stone.

Jacob took the stone and erected a monument to G-d. Assured of G-d’s promise that he would be successful, he dedicated the elation, the confidence and the sense of promise that burned in his heart, to G-d. He took the stone, which represented the promise of success, and turned it into a monument for G-d. He lifted it up and gave it to G-d. I do this not for myself and my own legacy – I do this for G-d.

Separateness

But Jacob didn’t stop there. He poured some oil over the monument. 

Oil is a powerful metaphor for separateness. When you mix oil with any other liquid, it rises to the top. The message is that although we are expected to be a single cohesive whole, we are still expected to be distinctive. We must each identify and cultivate our signature strengths in the service of G-d.

If you are a talented teacher, use that talent to teach G-d’s children. If you are a resourceful organizer, use your talent to organize cultural and educational events. If you are a wealthy entrepreneur, use that talent to employ G-d’s children and to help His poor.  The fusing stones reminds us to focus on our oneness, the oil reminds us to focus on our unique strengths.

The oil broadcasts yet another message. Although we are a single Jewish nation, we are distinct and different from all others. One might think that if cohesion is a value, we should seek it with all peoples. We should intermarry, and assimilate.

Comes Jacob and says, no. Don’t do that. When we say that we must fuse and be one, we are talking about cohesion amongst Jews. However, if we try to fuse with other nations, assimilate into their culture, learn their values and live by their credo, we will have diluted the purity and identity of our people. We will become an amalgam of all things and will stand for no thing.

Like oil, the Jew must remain apart and unique. G-d formed boundaries between people and wants those to remain in place. Cohesion and oneness are important to preserve our people. Separateness and distinction are necessary to avoid assimilation.

Only from a strong sense of identity, can we respect and connect with all people. Suppose the quarterback on a football team decides to show empathy to his teammates and focuses on learning their jobs. Rather than trying to be the best quarterback he can be, he works on becoming a good tackle. You can only imagine how much the team would suffer. For the team to succeed, each player must know his role and do his job. It is only by knowing his unique role that he can contribute to the team.

The same is true in life. The Jewish people are like limbs on a body. The world’s nations are like members of a team. Limbs must fuse into one body. Team members must focus on their unique roles. That was Jacob’s message. My twelve children should strive for oneness within their nation, but retain their uniqueness with respect to other nations. Only in this way can we be respected. Only in this way, can we contribute. Only this way, can we succeed in making this world a holy place.






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