D’var Torah – Vayetzey 5771 – November 12, 2010
Rabbi Maurice Harris
This week’s Torah portion is called vayetzey, and it is found in the book of breisheet, or Genesis in English. Our story begins with a young Jacob fleeing the wrath of his brother, Esau. As you may recall from last week’s Torah reading, Jacob deceived his dying father, Isaac, by pretending to be his twin brother, Esau, and by means of this deception Jacob made off with the special blessing Isaac had intended to give his first born son, Esau. Having been stripped of first-born privileges twice by Jacob at this point, Esau began muttering to himself that he would murder his brother once he got the chance. And having overheard Esau’s plotting, Rebecca sent Jacob away to her brother, Laban’s, household in the town of Haran.
This week’s parashah begins with young Jacob on the road to Haran. He stops for the night at a certain place. He takes a stone to use for a pillow, drifts off to sleep, and has a life-changing dream. Angles, or divine messengers, are ascending and descending a ladder connecting heaven and earth. God appears standing above the scene and blesses Jacob, saying: “the land upon which you are lying I will give to you and to your descendants. And your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and the east and the north and the south. Through you and your descendants all the families of the earth shall find blessing. And here I am, with you: I will watch over you, and I will bring you back to this soil. I will not let go of you as long as I have yet to do what I have promised you.”
Jacob awakens from his dream, astonished and alert. “Truly, God is in this place, and I did not know it!” he says aloud. And he adds, “mah norah ha-makom ha-zeh: how awesome is this place! This is none other than a house of God, and this is a gate of heaven!”
Jacob’s dream of the angels traveling up and down a ladder to heaven is famous. Something I find interesting is that the entire story up to the point that Jacob awakens and realizes that God was in this place takes the Torah only 7 verses to tell. But the element of this famous story that I’d like to focus on tonight is a single word that dominates the story – the Hebrew word makom, which means place. The Torah’s storytelling style is sparse on words and fast on action. So when a single word is repeated several times in the course of a story, you can bet that there’s special symbolic significance to it. In this case, the word makom appears 5 times in the 7 verses that tell the story of his dream and his awakening, and 3 of those occurrences take place in one of those verses alone. The narrating voice tells us that Jacob arrived at a certain makom, took one of the stones of the makom to use as a make-shift pillow, and that he lay down in that makom. When Jacob wakes up, startled by his amazing dream, he says that God is in this makom and that this makom is awe-inspiring. Continue reading “D’var Torah – Vayetzey”