Architecting an abode: Vayetzei

Our Sages note that the word hamakom/the place refers thoughout the Tanach to the holy place where the Beit Hamikdosh will be built, where we will pray and establish our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

Judaism Learning Torah
Learning Torah
Flash 90

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

When Yaakov is fleeing from Esau on his way to Lavan’s house, he arrives at the place/vayifga bamakom where he sleeps and has the prophetic dream of the ladder reaching to heaven. When he awakes, he understands that this place is unique and holy, and he proclaims, “God is bamakom hazeh/in this place… ma nora hamakom hazeh, ain zeh ki im beit Elokhim vzeh shaar hashamayim/ How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God and this is the gate of heavens!”

Our Sages note that hamakom/the place is throughout Tanach referring to the holy place where the Beit Hamikdosh will be built, where we will pray and establish our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. However, Avraham Avinu referred to the place of connection as a har/mountain, and Yitzchak Avinu referred to it as a sadeh/field. Here, Yaakov Avinu refers to this place as a bayit/house. What is the difference between these appellations and what is the significance for us?

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz z”; discusses the significance of “place.”  Every place has its own distinct climate and energy that affects not only its native flora and fauna, but also the character of the people. The main characteristic of Eretz Yisroel is kedushah/sanctity, as it is the place Hashem’s presence resides most comfortably (since He exists everywhere). Even here, while His presence can be felt throughout the land, it is more concentrated in Yerushalayim and most concentrated on the Temple Mount, especially on the site of the Holy of Holies.

Our forefathers searched for this special place of intense sanctity and felt the magnetism of this place, whether it was Avraham Avinu who felt its magnetic pull from afar with Yitzchak while his two “lads” did not feel it, or whether Yaakov Avinu felt it here. Each Patriarch established his place of worship, and each of us should try to do so as well. When we establish our regular spot for our prayers, we create an energy of sanctity, we focus more easily and intensely, and our forefathers will help our prayers rise heavenward.

Of all sites, why is this one called by the definite pronoun Hamakom/The place?Rav Tzadok Hakohein z”l notes that this is the place from which the universe evolved and expanded, the even shesiya/foundation stone of the world, [the actualization of the word bara/created, CKS from Malbim]. When Yaakov calls this place Beit Elokhim/abode of God, explains Rav Tzadok z”l, he is trying to teach us that since Hashem fills the entire world, we can create mini abodes for God in whatever place we may be. As Rabbi Munk z”l adds, God will be found in any home where human souls blossom and flourish in building a life of sanctity.

Rabbi Pincus z”l z”l in Nefesh Shimshon offers us insight into the reasoning of each of our patriarchs’ appellation for this place dedicated to sanctity. To create a relationship requires privacy. Avraham Avinu felt that one could achieve such privacy on top of a mountain, separated from his surroundings. Yitzchak Avinu felt that a mountain was not enough, that one needed a field to create the proper environment. Yaakov Avinu, instead of going out, went in, to a house that everyone recognizes as private property. The Beit Hamikdosh/House of God was the place of ultimate sanctity, where we were alone with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

And on Shabbos, when we block out the outside, mundane world, we can again achieve this privacy with the Creator. This house exists even after the Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed, continues Rabbi Pincus z”l. Shabbos is a day we do not work, a day completely devoted to honoring Hashem and building our relationship with Him. The Shabbos home itself is a reflection of the Beit Hamikdosh. We have the candles resembling the menorah, our Shabbos table, like the table in the Beit Hamikdosh, topped with loaves of bread, and we recite Kiddush that reflect the wine libations in the Mikdosh.

On Shabbos we invest all planes of existence with sanctity, alluded to in the acronym OSHoN/smoke, like the smoke thraat rose up from the altar from the offerings. On Shabbat we invest the physical Olam/world, the Shanah/time, and our Nefesh/souls, the essence of our being into our holy relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. On Shabbos we are secluded with Hashem in a sort of yichud relationship.

Avraham Avinu could achieve privacy on a mountaintop, Yitzchak needed the private property of a field, Yaakov needed the complete privacy of the home.

Rabbi Zev Leff brings yet another dimension to our discussion. Not only is each of our Avos connected to a particular kind of place for communicating with Hashem, but each is also associated with our Holy Temples. Avraham, who saw Hashem on the mountain where He will be seen, is associated with the First Temple where Hashem’s presence was completely manifest. Yitzchak, whose entire essence became service to Hashem, represented a field that grows with man’s effort, as was the Second Beit Hamikdosh which, although lacking some of the sanctity of the First Beit Hamikdosh, still retained sanctity as Bnei Yisroel continued to seek His presence there. Yaakov, on the other hand, was on his way to galus, the exile that would be the precursor of the future exiles of his descendants. His vision needed to be one that would sustain Bnei Yisroel through these future exiles. His vision included the homes where Torah would be found and studied, the beit knesset/synagogue, the beit medrash/study hall, and the bayit/home of every Jew. After all, a home has four walls to keep the impure out and to retain the unity within, so that the sanctity that hovers overhead will flow out through the windows to enlighten the world. When these are sufficiently strengthened, we will be preparing for the building of the third and permanent Beit Hamikdosh.

How does a Jewish home, like the Jewish person, encapsulate holiness? Tzitzit and Tefillin protect an individual from sin, while the mezuzah protects his home, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. These are to keep one constantly aware of Hashem’s presence both with his body and within his home. A man takes his tzitzit with him all day, he begins his day with tefillin [although at one time, some wore tefillin all day], and we kiss the mezuzah as we leave the house to symbolically take the sanctity of the home with us as we leave it. Each person thus becomes a living, walking Sefer Torah and is entrusted with maintaining its sanctity. Rabbi Schorr cites the Satmar Rebbe in explaining that the Beit Hamikdosh is also called the Beit Habechirah/House of Choice because we are reminded that we have the choice not to be pulled down by the mundane, external world just because we have left the confines of our home.

Every mezuzah case has conspicuously on its outside either the initial “shin” or the full name of God, “Sh-K-Y” that stands not only for Shomer Dalsos Yisroel/[He] guards the doors of Israel, but also for Sheomar Laolam Diy/Who said to the world “Enough/Stop.” For us also, the world should be enough and, being created in God’s image, we have the power to say No. We tend not to view our home as a place of sanctity, but if we can truly believe that it is a place of holiness, it will transform us. The mezuzah on the door should be a constant reminder of the holiness that pulsates within.

The Torah relates that Hashem tells Moshe to tell these words to beis Yaakov/the house of Yaakov. Rashi explains that this refers to the women who are the akeret habayis/the mainstay of the house. As such, it is the woman’s responsibility to maintain the proper atmosphere in the home.

In fact, says Rabbi Pincus z”l, the woman has a natural connection to Hashem; she requires no external reminders of tzitzit or tefillin. Within her is the first study hall of the growing fetus and after its birth, she is the one to teach him and guide him before he is weaned, before the man takes an active role in his education. But throughout, she is the one to guard against the invasion of negative and improper elements in the privacy of the home, from constant cell phone conversation when there should be bonding time with family, to books and computers that introduce negative influences into the home. The redemption will come, as it did in Egypt, through the merit of righteous women.

Each of our Avot saw the focus of his mission differently, writes Rabbi Parnes in Lev Tahor. Avraham who saw his purpose as outreach went down to Egypt, the intellectual hub of that ancient era, so that he could influence others there. Yitzchak was not concerned with outreach, but if others approached him, he would take them in. Yaakov wanted to concentrate exclusively on his own family and tribe, to keep them single minded and united. He descended to Egypt with seventy soul, united in the singular. His focus was to build from within.

This diversity of our Avot is reflected in the prayers attributed to each of these Patriarchs. Avraham Avinu who wanted to go out in the world established Shacharit, the morning prayer before one leaves his home. Yitzchak established Mincha, the afternoon prayer, continuing the day’s work while winding down, but not introducing anything new. Yaakov established Maariv, the evening prayer when one is returning to his home, to his inner world.

Rabbi Moshe Breslover notes a recurring theme in this parsha. An even/stone appears conspicuously three times in this parsha: At the beginning of the parsha, as Yaakov is going to Charan and Lavan’s house, he puts a stone under his head as a pillow; when he arrives in Charan, he rolls the stone off the opening of the well so that Rachel can water her sheep; when Yaakov finally separates from Lavan, he builds a monument with a stone and then gathers more stones to create a mound. Rav Breslover notes that even is a compound word, av(ev) /father and ben(ven)/son. The first stone in the parsha signifies the vision of the future family. Rolling the stone off the well is the beginning of creating that family. Finally, the stones between Yaakov and Lavan create a boundary that separates the Jewish home from the rest of the world. And it is the woman who is the pillar of sanctity that creates the mini beit hamikdosh in her own home.

Rabbi Belsky z’l notes that we have the models for fostering sanctity on earth in our Avos. Avraham Avinu showed us it takes effort, like climbing a mountain, to reach this goal. Yitzchak took it a step further. One doesn’t stop when one reaches the summit, but plants fields so that the spirituality can grow. But then, one must build a structure around the fruit, as Yaakov did, to protect the fruit, to enter Hashem’s chamber.

Rabbi Spero relates an amazing conversation between Rav Elchanan Wasserman and the Belzer Rebbe that offers us a beautiful path into creating a mikdash me’at with our own prayers. Citing the medrash that Hashem came down to the world with his machaneh/camp, He built the first wall of the Beit Hamikdosh. The gematria/numerical equivalent of machaneh is 103. Then Avraham came and found Hashem on the har, The gematria, adding one to include the word itself, equals 206, twice machaneh. Yitzchak then finds Hashem in the sadeh, equal to 309, and Yaakov completes the fourth wall in the bayit, equal to 412. Finally, Moshe adds a roof when he prays to Hashem at the end of his life, vaetchanan equal to 515, the number of prayers he beseeched Hashem with. When we pray with the proper focus, we call upon the lives and deeds and sacrifices of these who formed the foundation of Yiddishkeit and, together with them, we build a mini beit hamikdosh in all the places we call bayit.

It is Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv who tells us how to provide a floor and foundation for our building. Rabbi Akiva says, “Ish visha zachu, hashechinah beineihem...”/If a husband and wife merit, God’s presence is with them.” Totaling the values of Ish and Isha, and including the one unifying word, we get 618, completing the foundation for a Jewish home to welcome God’s presence.

This is our exalted mission, to use the character and lessons of our forefathers and Moshe to build within ourselves and within our homes the mini reflections of the Beit Hamikdosh so that we will merit building the permanent third Beit Hamikdosh bimheirah biyameinu/soon, in our lifetime.