ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה ויפגע במקום וילן שם . . . כי בא השמש
Jacob left Be’er-sheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
The Gemara (Hullin 91b) explains the words “ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה ויפגע במקום” (and Jacob left Be’er-Sheba and set out for Haran and he came upon a certain place) as follows: And when he arrived at Haran, Jacob said, “is it possible that I passed by the place at which my fathers prayed [i.e., Mount Moriah] without praying there as well?” When he set his mind to return (כד יהיב דעתיה למהדר), the land leapt for him (i.e. his journey was miraculously shortened), and immediately he came upon that place. After he prayed, he wanted to return. The Holy One Blessed Be He said, ‘this righteous one has come to my inn and is it right that he should leave without sleeping?’ At once, the sun set.”
My father, my teacher, my master, the gaon of blessed memory (R. Avraham Glasner, 1826-77) explained that Jacob, having been cloistered fourteen years in the academy of Shem and Eiver, longed to study Torah so passionately that he despised all worldly activities and only reluctantly complied with the directive of his parents to travel to Laban’s house to marry and engage in mundane pursuits. So when the Gemara tells us that as soon as Jacob came to Haran, having passed by the divine mountain, the place dedicated to prayer by Abraham and Isaac, he said: “is it possible that when immersed in Torah study in the academy of Shem and Eiver, I could have passed by such a holy place without feeling its holiness?” And because he had passed by Mount Moriah without sensing its holiness, Jacob decided that his intention to go to Laban’s house to engage in mundane pursuits was not right, his intention having already had a profaning effect, thereby alienating him from what is holy. He therefore made up his mind to return to the academy of Shem and Eiver, because only there could he remain “a plain man, abiding in tents” (איש תם יושב אהלים). For what would he accomplish by engaging in mundane pursuits that detract from holiness? At once, Jacob was transported back to Mount Moriah, and he prayed. Upon finishing, he wanted to return – i.e, return to the academy of Shem and Eiver. But instead, he immediately fell asleep there, because the sun had set (וילן שם כי בא השמש), and then the Holy One Blessed Be He showed Jacob that his intention to return to the academy was mistaken. For to divorce oneself entirely from the values of this world, to be involved only in reflection and study, is not the function of a man in this world. To be involved only in reflection is the calling of an angel having no evil inclination. But a human being perfects himself by living in a community, and by rejoicing, as the Torah permits, in the temporal life. In this way one fills the commandment “to know Him in all your ways” (בכל דרכיה דעהו), thereby uniting body and soul. This was the message of the dream “and behold a ladder set up on earth” (והנה סולם מוצב ארצה). The ladder symbolizes man in this world, the world of action, because, at each moment, he is either ascending or descending, going either to a higher or to a lower level. Although the primary place and condition of man is on the ground (מוצב ארצה), his head may yet reach the heavens (וראשו מגיע השמימה), for one is required to use this world as a preparation for the next one, as we are told (Avot 4:21) “הכן עצמך בפרוזדור כדי שתכנם לטקלין” )prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you may enter the banquet hall(. The phrase”והנה מלאכי אלוקים עולים ויורדים בו” (and behold angels of God were going up and down on it) means that angels at first stand on a higher level than man, but they may be surpassed by a complete person who fulfills his obligation to know God in all his ways. As the Gemara explains, Israel is more precious than angels to the Holy One Blessed Be He. Perhaps you will say that this test is too difficult, for who can survive a battle with the evil inclination unless he confines himself within the four cubits of the law? That is why Jacob was shown that “ה’ ניצב עליו” (the Eternal stood above him) — to watch over him. Upon awaking, Jacob said, “מה נורא המקום הזה” (how awesome is this place), meaning that the path that he was directed to follow — to join the two opposites in order to unify and perfect himself — is awesome and perilous. Jacob continued, “אין זה כי אם בית אלוקים” (this is none other than the house of God), meaning that his ultimate goal must be to unify his heart with his Heavenly Father, “וזה שער השמים” (and this is the gate to Heaven), meaning that to achieve this goal he must continue on the path to Haran to find a wife and to tend the sheep of Laban, an awesome and perilous path toward an uncertain outcome. That is why Jacob vowed his vow: “If God will be with me, and will protect me on this journey, giving me bread to eat and a garment to wear, enabling me to return to my father’s house in peace, and the Eternal remaining my God, because I remain steadfast in my faith, then this stone which I have put for a pillar shall be God’s house: and all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.” (דור רביעי)
ויקח מאבני המקום . . . ויקח את האבן
And he took from the stones of the place . . . and he took the stone.
Genesis 28:11, 18
The Tosafot wrote (Hulin 91b) that the simple explanation (contrary to that offered by Rashi) is not that Jacob took many stones which, miraculously, were combined into one, but that he took a single stone from the stones of the place. However, if that were the proper interpretation, it would be hard to understand why the Sages inferred from the verse that, all the stones having been gathered into one place, each one saying, “let this righteous one lay his head upon me,” were combined into a single stone. The more reasonable interpretation would have been that Jacob took the single stone he had taken earlier, not that many stones had miraculously combined into one. But it appears that the Sages did not infer that a miracle occurred to explain why the verses were contradictory, rather the difficulty that concerned them was why, if many stones had been available, it being written “ויקח מאבני המקום”, Jacob specifically chose as a monument the very stone upon which he had laid his head, a stone used for a mundane purpose, when it would have been preferable to take a stone never previously used by anyone, thereby offering greater homage to Heaven. They therefore posited that the stones of the place were transformed miraculously into a single stone, so that no other stone was left for Jacob to choose. And the proof that this is so is that if the basis for the inference were a contradiction between the two verses, as is usually supposed, why was it said that all the stones of the place gathered together? Was it not, as Rashi comments on the verse in the Torah, Jacob who took some stones and arranged them as a kind of border around his head, in which case, it was only the stones already selected by Ya’akov that had argued. So, it must be that all the stones of the place were arguing and were then transformed into a single stone. And according to the Kabbalists, who say that these stones were from the altar upon which Isaac had been bound by Abraham, all the stones desired Jacob to lay his head upon them. One could further say that Jacob was inspired to use that stone as a pillar owing to his modesty, not believing himself sufficiently holy for the stones to have been arguing and for a miracle to be performed to transform them into a single stone for his sake. Instead, he attributed the argument and the miracle to the desire of the stones to be part of the pillar that they expected him to set up.
And with this Aggadah I would explain in a pleasant way Jacob’s words “והאבן הזאת אשר שמתי מצבה יהיה בית אלוקים” (and this stone which I set up as a pillar shall be God’s house(. (See the commentaries of Rashi and the Ramban.) According to what I said previously, one could say that a pillar was prohibited when the Torah was given, as it is written, “לא תקום לך מצבה” (thou shalt not set up for thyself a pillar). But the Sages said that although a pillar was beloved in the time of the Patriarchs, it was despised later, the idolaters having prescribed it as the manner of offering sacrifices. But this is very difficult, the idolaters having built many altars, as it is written (Deuteronomy 12:3) “ונתצתם את מזבחותם” (and ye shall uproot their altars), and we also see that Balam built many altars. Moreover, the procedure of offering a sacrifice was followed in idolatry, as it is written “למען לא יזבחו עוד לשעירים” (so that they should not sacrifice further to the satyrs), the only difference between our method of sacrifice and theirs being that they sacrificed to demons, not to the Deity, while we sacrificed to Heaven, to the blessed Ein Sof, with the intent prescribed by the Torah. If so, what was the difference between a pillar and any other altar? The difference, as Rashi explains, is that a pillar is a single stone and an altar is made from many stones, so that all the stones, having been combined into one, the pillar that Jacob set up had the status of an altar, not a pillar. Jacob therefore said, “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be fitting to be the House of God even after the Torah is given.” And in truth, a pillar was always offensive to God for an unknown reason, but the pillar of Jacob was different, because, having been combined from many stones into one, it was like an altar. (דור רביעי)
והאבן הזאת אשר שמתי מצבה יהיה בית אלוקים
And this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall be God’s house.
See Rashi and the Ramban, who, each in his own way, explains the words “יהיה בית אלוקים” (shall be God’s house). But one sees immediately that their explanations are forced. And see how Rashi, the Ramban, and Ibn Ezra, commenting on the verse in porashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:22), “ולא תקים לך מצבה אשר שנא ה’ אלוקיך” (Neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar, which the Lord thy God hateth) explain how Jacob could have erected a pillar.
But our master suggested a new interpretation: that Jacob our father saved himself from any transgression in erecting this pillar by saying that it should be the house of God, and not a pillar which God hates. For the difference between a pillar and an altar, as the Ramban explains here, is that a pillar is a single stone and an altar is built with many stones. But the pillar that Jacob erected was also from many stones, because Jacob had taken “מאבני המקום” (from the stones of the place), which were then transformed miraculously into a single stone, according to the explanation of the Sages quoted here by Rashi. Jacob therefore said “and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house,” and because it was made from many stones, God will not hate it. (שביבי אש)
ותהר לאה ותלד בין ותקרא שמו ראובן כי אמרה ראה ה’ בעניי
And Leah conceived and she bore a son, and she called his name Reuben because she said God has seen my affliction.
Rashi comments that our Sages explained that she said, “ראו מה בין בני לבן חמי שמכר הבכורה ליעקב וזה לא מכרה ליוסף ולא ערער עליו ולא עוד שלא ערער עליו אלא שבקש להוציאו מן הבור”” (see the difference between my son and the son (Esau) of my father-in-law, who sold his birthright to Jacob, and wished to kill him afterwards. But my son did not sell it (his birthright) to Joseph, yet made no protest against Joseph’s being regarded as the first-born; not only did he not protest, but even sought to take him out of the pit and rescue him from death” (Berahot 7b).
Now the question arises: what prompted the Sages to interpret the name Reuben in this way, and why did they not accept the explicit statement by the Scripture that she named him Reuaben because God saw her affliction?
And our master explained that while the names of all the other sons of Jacob are recorded only after the explanation of the name is given, here the Scripture records the name first, before providing the reason for the name. So it must be that Leah had another reason, one she did not want to reveal, which was the reason given by our Sages: “see the difference between my son and the son of my father-in-law.” But she was not permitted to disclose this reason, just as Isaac was later not permitted to disclose to Jacob what had happened to Joseph. Leah therefore had to offer another pretextual reason for the name, the one recorded by the Scripture. (שביבי אש)
ויצל אלוקים את מקנה אביכם ויתן לי
God has taken away your father’s livestock and given it to me
It may be questioned why the Scripture writes “אביכם” (your father) as a masculine form, when elsewhere it writes the appropriate feminine form “אביהן”. Our master offered an explanation based upon the Scripture below (31:14) “העוד לנו חלק ונחלה בבית אבינו” (Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?). Rashi understands this to mean: “can we hope to inherit anything belonging to our father together with his sons?” This seems difficult, for the law is that daughters do not inherit when there are sons. So why did Rachel and Leah complain? From the verse (Genesis 29:6): “שלום והנה רחל בתו באה עם הצאן” (he is well, and, behold, Rachel his daughter is coming with the flock), according to the opinion that Laban, originally having no sons, just daughters to tend his sheep, one could say that what it meant for Laban to be well, i.e., to be at peace, was for him to be separated from others completely, and to have no connection with them, just as a pot makes peace between fire and water by separating them so that they are not in contact, fire and water being unable to coexist. That was the only way to be at peace with Laban. This is shown by the fact that Rachel was tending the sheep even though females are not normally shepherds, Laban refusing to trust any outsider to tend to his sheep. So if Laban’s daughters did men’s work for him by tending his sheep, they deserved to take a portion of Laban’s inheritance equal to that of his younger sons who had done nothing to help Laban accumulate his fortune. That is why Jacob said, “God has delivered the cattle of your father, and given them to me,” using the masculine form of “your father” (אביכם) to indicate that in reference to the cattle that Gםd gave him, Rachel and Leah, having toiled for their father as if they were males, had the status of males entitled to inherit. And, it was on account of their toil, that God gave Jacob the cattle of Laban. (שביבי אש)