I would like to share an idea that I heard from R. Yehoshua Berman a few years ago.
Yaakov is involved in a project that none of the other avot deal with, the building of “matzevot” usually translated as monuments. Whereas we find the concept of a mizbayach by Avraham and by Yitzchak, neither of them build a single matzeyvah and Yaakov constructs four of them!!
What is the purpose of the matzevot? We can assume the purpose of the mizbayach was to offer sacrifices but it seems that the matzevot have nothing to do with the offering of sacrifices; and why is this a new project initiated specifically by Yaakov avinu?
The key to answering this question is in the investigation of the use of a strange verb in the beginning of our parsha. In the dream that Yaakov has we find that Yaakov is confronted with a strange scene of angels on a ladder. The shoresh MaTZaV appears twice in the dream, .in 28:12 the ladder is “planted” in the ground “MUTZAV” in the next pasuk it is Hashem that is on top of the ladder “NETZAV”. On both occasions other verbs could have easily been used but yet it was the shoresh MATZAV that was chosen. Of course the matzevah shares the same root as MATZAV. The simple translation of this verb has to do with stability and firmness.
If we take a look at the promises that were made to Yaakov in the dream we find that Hashem knew very well that Yaakov had just embarked on a very long and troubled life. He was to have trouble with Lavan, Esav, Yosef, Shchem ETC.. and overall we are not surprised when near the end of his life he complains to Pharaoh of having a very stressful life. Yaakov was promised, in the dream, a certain level of stability in his life (YITZIVOOT, form the root MATZAV). The points made in the dream are to serve as his markers for the stable promises of G-d.
If we examine the dream we see that he is promised three things: chlidren, the land and that Hashem will protect him in his travels to Lavan. As Yaakov awakens from the dream we find that he immediately errects the first matzeva (28:18) as if to mark the “markers” of stability. He has received a promise from Hashem, and this will serve as his guiding hope in the future. If we continue in reading the parsha we find that the constuction of the other three matzevot are each at a crossroads which correspond to the promises made to Yaakov in the dream.
In perek 31 pasuk 45 we find that he erects the second one at the conclusion of the pact with Lavan which fulfills the promise made to him by Hashem to protect him and guide him throughout his time with Lavan.
In next weeks parsha in 35:14 we find a repeat of the promise concerning the land as Yaakov reenters the land and he therefore sets up yet another Matzevah. The final one is a bit more difficult to find as it is disguised as something else.
As Rachel tragically passes away during childbirth, Yaakov buries her on the side of the road and erects a matzevah on her grave(35:20). The monument is in part, to his late wife, but also in part it is to symbolize the other event that happened simultaneously, the birth of Bnyamin the last of the tribes, fulfilling the promise of children.
Yaakov, by building the matzevot is trying to mark the points of stability in his life as they had been mapped out by the vision of the dream as he first left his parents home.