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Parashat Vayeseh- The Sacred Stone

We read in the beginning of Parashat Vayeseh of Yaakob’s famous dream which he beheld as he slept along his journey from Eretz Yisrael to Haran. Rashi makes the famous observation that Yaakob is first described as taking a group of stones on which to put his head as he slept, but later, we read that when Yaakob awoke in the morning, he took “the stone” which had been under his head and made it into a special monument. Based on the Midrash, Rashi explains that as Yaakob slept, the stones “fought” with one another, each one vying for the privilege of having the head of this righteous man rest on it. G-d performed a miracle and all the stones blended together into a single stone, so they would no longer fight. And thus when Yaakob woke up in the morning, there was only one stone under his head.

What is the significance of this miracle?

The Midrash teaches that Yaakob initially took twelve stones which he then placed under his head. Therefore, the merging of the stones under his head into one stone signifies unity between the twelve tribes of Israel, the coming together of all Am Yisrael in peace and harmony, without friction and divisiveness. This is the great significance of this miracle.

When Yaakob arose in the morning and saw that the stones had come together, he understood what this meant. He declared that stone sacred, pouring oil over it and erecting it as a special monument. The Zohar teaches that this stone would later become the “Eben Ha’shetiya” – the foundation stone in the most sacred spot in the Bet Ha’mikdash. The holiest place on earth is the sacred stone that symbolizes “Ahdut,” the unity of Am Yisrael, our merging together into a single nation with mutual love, respect and commitment.

A famous Mishna in PIrkeh Abot teaches that a “Mahloket Le’shem Shamayim” – an argument waged “for the sake of Heaven” – will endure, whereas a “Mahloket She’ena Le’shem Shamayim” – an argument that is not waged “for the sake of heaven” – will not endure. The conventional reading of this statement is that when people argue sincerely for the sake of properly interpreting the Torah, like when scholars argue with one another in the Bet Midrash as they work to understand our sacred texts, these are constructive and beneficial arguments which we want to endure. Such arguments, which are waged sincerely for the sake of arriving at the truth, help elucidate the topic so that a clear, accurate conclusion can be reached. However, when people argue over petty, personal matters, such as over money, property and honor, nothing beneficial results from such fighting, and thus we do not want these arguments to endure.

There is, however, a deeper interpretation of this Mishna. The term “Mahloket Le’shem Shamayim” might refer to those fights which people wage ostensibly for the sake of religion. When different groups fight over religious matters, these fights never end, because both groups persist and never yield, as yielding would be perceived as a betrayal of their deepest held convictions. Whereas other arguments eventually die down, as people come to the realization that the money or honor they were fighting for is not worth the cost of a fight, when it comes to religious matters, people tend to fight relentlessly without ever making peace. And therefore, these are the most dangerous arguments of all. We are allowed, and required, to take positions on important religious matters about which others disagree, but we must do so respectfully and peacefully, without waging wars, because such wars almost always end up being especially destructive.

The Gemara states that the festival of Shemini Aseret, which we celebrate after the long holiday season of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, is observed because Hashem tells us after this special period, “Kasha Alai Peridatchem” – literally, “separating from you is difficult for Me.” After spending so much special time together, Hashem does not want to see us go, and so He commands us to spend one extra day celebrating. Some Rabbis noted that this phrase – “Kasha Alai Peridatchem” – can also mean, “The division among you is difficult for Me.” Nothing gives parents more anguish than watching their children fight with one another, and thus nothing gives Hashem, our Father, more anguish than when His children fight, when we fight with our fellow Jews. We might add that the word “Alai” (“for Me,” or “about Me”) perhaps indicates that Hashem refers here specifically to the divisions which are made for Him, for the sake of religion. The fights and arguments that cause Hashem the greatest anguish are those which are waged because of Him, as it were, those which are fought over religious matters.

Let us, then, ensure to maintain peaceful relations within communities and between different communities, and see to it that our legitimate differences of opinion do not lead us to strife and division. The Bet Ha’mikdash was built upon Yaakob Abinu’s sacred stone, the stone which signifies the unity of all the many different groups among the Jewish Nation – because this is the foundation of Kedusha and of our special status as Hashem’s treasured nation.

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