“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.” (Genesis 28:11)
The repetition of the word hinei, behold, is a clue to the importance of the opening scene in Parashat Vayeitzei. Jacob is fleeing Beer Sheva for Charan and when he camps for the night he dreams of angels going up and down a ladder to heaven. God appears and speaks to him, promising land, offspring, and protection. Jacob wakes, pronounces with awe the sanctity of the place, and builds a monument to mark it. The scene is rich in imagery and irresistible to commentators.
The rabbis question God’s promise to give to Jacob and his offspring, “…the ground on which you are lying.” (Gen. 28:13); they are not impressed by a promise of, at most, twelve square feet. Their response is to assert God rolled up the entire land of Canaan and put it under Jacob, making the gift much more significant (Babylonian Talmud Chulin 91b). Further, since this exact spot is the future kodesh k’doshim, the Holy of Holies of the Temple, this interpretation offers one explanation how the entire land acquired its sanctity.
God’s gift of the land and its inherent sanctity is of interest not only to the rabbis of the Talmud. For many, it is a critical issue in the quest for peace in Israel today. According to the recent Pew survey, 40% of American Jews believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people. If they also believe the land is sacred, it may not be sacrificed for any other goal (such as trading it for peace). If it is not sacred, it may be. Whether or not it should be is a separate question.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom