It has always been quite bewildering to me that Yaakov, after dreaming of God and having received the historic message from Him, having immediately jumped up and exclaimed ‘wonder’ and ‘awe’, that it was only the next morning that he arose and commemorated the event with a monument and anointing. In this dream, Yaakov becomes the ‘next generation’ to receive the Avraham blessing and all Yaakov can do, after his initial shock, is lie back down?
In the second pasuk of the parsha, it states: “He [Yaakov] arrived at the place and decided to rest there because the sun was setting, and he took from the rocks of the place and placed them under his head and slept in the place”. Strangely, it says ‘the place’ three times in this one verse! Surely anytime anything is mentioned three times (especially in one pasuk) it is emphasizing something – and this time it’s emphasizing an anonymous place! Stranger still, at the end of this whole scene, Yaakov names this place Beit El “and Luz had been its name previously”. It had a name already, so why was it specifically called “the place”, three times?
In an attempt to reconcile these seeming difficulties, we must look at the language of Yaakov’s ‘waking’ immediately after his dream. The pasuk states “Va’Yikatz Mishnato” (usually translated as “he jumped up from his sleep”) and exclaimed, “surely there is God in this place and I had no idea!” There are two other instances in the Torah that a person “Va’yikatz” from a dream. Each one of them states ‘Va’yikatz so-and-so and behold, it was a dream’: Pharaoh and Shlomo both awake from their sleep and realize that the fantastic images they had seen (cows/stalks on the Nile and God’s visitation, respectively) was a dream. With Yaakov, it does not state, ‘and behold, it was a dream’. Also, with Yaakov, as opposed to the other two, the verse adds, ‘from his sleep’ – but we know he was sleeping – why would we need this additional fact? Due to the dissimilarities, I would like to posit that, in fact, Yaakov never truly physically ‘woke’ from his slumber (like the others did, realizing they had been dreaming), but rather ‘awoke from his stupor’. ‘Sleep’ is the metaphor for ‘unconscious’ or ‘unaware’ and what Yaakov does, in reaction to his Divine dream, is jump up from a previously unaware state into full consciousness. (The next morning, when he truly physically wakes, “Va’Yashkem Yaakov BaBoker”, he reacts accordingly and physically builds a monument).
So, the question remains, what was Yaakov previously unaware of that this dream finally awakened him to? If we return to our second question, the answer becomes clear. Why did it emphasize ‘the place’ three times in the second pasuk? Because the Torah is making sure we understand that this is how Yaakov related to this place. He was totally unaware of its significance, for him it was just another place. Did this ‘awareness lesson’ work? If we recall Yaakov’s words that reflect this newly discovered consciousness, “surely there is God in this place and I had no idea!” the answer is clear. He now realizes that this is a Godly place and that he previously had ‘no idea’ and wakes the next morning to name ‘the place’ Beit El – the title that amply reflects his new understanding.
The question should now be asked however as to why Yaakov needed to understand the significance of this place.
Why did God have to appear to him to make sure Yaakov truly understood its Divine characteristic? God’s message to Yaakov in the dream consisted of the two main aspects of the Avraham blessing: 1) His descendants will be numerous and 2) the land is promised to them. Previously, Yaakov, as an ‘ish tam yoshev ohalim’ never ventured out of his personal abode, never truly experienced the outside world. How often are we unappreciative of the landscape around us when we have dwelled within it our whole lives – do you visit the tourists sites in your home town? Yaakov, having spent his whole life in Eretz Yisrael (unlike his grandfather) and having never even attempted to leave (unlike his father) never had the opportunity to fully appreciate his surroundings – for him, Eretz Yisrael was merely called ‘Home’. It is now, during his first venture into this ‘outside world’, alone (on his way to Padam Aram), that the true significance of the land he has lived in must be comprehended. If he is to be the next link in the Avraham legacy, the aspects of the Divine promise (Land and Descendants) must be truly significant to him so that when he returns to it from the ‘outside’ world, he will properly express and accomplish his own personal “Lekh Lekha”, initiating him into the ‘Avot Club’!