‘And Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, and went towards Charan. He came across the place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took some of the stones of the place and placed them around his head, and he lay down in that place.’
This week’s Torah portion is Vayeitzei – And he departed. After Jacob is blessed by his father Issac (instead of his brother Esav),
Esav is furious and vows to kill his brother. Rivkah, their mother, tells Jacob to run away to her brother Lavan’s home, until it is safe to return.
Before heading to his uncle’s home, however, the Midrash tells us that Jacob learned in the famous yeshiva (house of study) of Shem & Ever, for 14 years.
Only then did he “depart” – as we find in the beginning of this portion. On his journey, Jacob stops to sleep at a certain place. The Midrash tells us that this was the holiest place in the world – Mount Moriah – where the temple would later be built in Jerusalem. Here the Torah says, “He took some of the stones of the place and placed them around his head.” Why? Rashi explains: “Jacob was fearful of the wild animals.”
Now let’s ask ourselves a simple question. If you were camping in safari country, where lions roamed, would you put a few stones around you for protection?? I think these animals are rather athletic and have the ability to jump 4 inches off the ground! And better yet, would you try and protect only your head? I know it’s an important part of one’s anatomy, but I’d like to keep the rest of my body intact if I can help it! So what in the world was Jacob thinking exactly when he decided to surround only his head with some measly stones!?
The holy Zohar teaches us, that if one reads any single story of the Torah and takes it only at face value, he or she is missing out on everything. Of course Jacob literally surrounded his head with stones, but of what significance, of what symbolism is the Torah teaching me in my life? The Chassidic Masters explained this event as follows: Jacob knew that he was leaving the comfortable, holy presence of his father and mother in Israel, to wander into the unknown, corrupt territory of his uncle Lavan in a foreign land. There he would work day and night, trying to survive and still keep his moral character together, his trust and devotion to G-d intact. That’s why he prepared himself with an additional time secluded in learning about G-d and instilling these values internally. But even so, once he would enter the world of the conniving Lavan, how could he possibly keep his moral character strong? This is why Jacob surrounded only his head. Jacob was saying: “I’m not scared of the physical wild animals, but the spiritual ones! My spiritual integrity and beliefs will be attacked at every moment, and therefore I must always keep what’s in my head - what I have learned and what I believe now – intact.
Like our forefather Jacob, we too live in the world of Lavan. A foreign one; one which may feel comfortable, but that is foreign to our souls, which only want holy and good things. We deal with the world, we study, we work. Society may be asking us on a daily basis to conform to its desires for us to be what it would like us to be. The Jewish people, throughout history, have resisted that desire. While involving ourselves completely with the world, G-d asks us to refine and uplift, rather than be dragged down with it. And how do we do that? By keeping what’s in our heads, the values we have learned and the Judaism we have internalized, intact and untouchable; unchanging. And through every prayer, every mitzvah, every Torah class learned, we additionally fortify our heads and protect ourselves with immovable stones.
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