In the opening episode of this week’s parsha Yaakov has his famous dream. The commentaries treat each and every aspect of the dream and search out the symbolism imbedded in them. One of the most interesting discussions revolves around the geography of the story. Where was Yaakov when he slept? Where was the base of the ladder and where did it lead to? I would like to track some of these questions through the eyes of some of the classic mefarshim.
If we begin with the text itself we are given a few, very unclear, hints:
1. Yaakov has left Beer Sheva and is going to Charan.
2. He arrives at the “place”.
3. The ladder is based on the ground and reaches the sky.
4. When he wakes up he declares that this is “The house of God and the gate of heaven”.
5. Yaakov calls the place Bet El and it used to be Luz.
The simple reading of the pessukim gives us very little (I stress the simple reading, in this case, as with many others, we are challenged to read the pesukim without the familiar explanations of Rashi, which we will come back to). Yaakov’s direction of travel and the general terminology used in the rest of the list above leave us with very little help. The only real piece of evidence is the name of Bet El and Luz which indicate real places, although as we will see it is not clear that there was only one place with such a name.
It is actually the Or Hachaim who points out the simple reading of the passuk and states that the incident happened “somewhere along the way in what seems to have been a city by the name of Luz”.
The simple reading however is not adopted by most commentaries. The dream of Yaakov is heavily weighted with symbolism, as it is his first prophecy and represents (at least according to the Ramban a foreshadowing of all of Jewish history).
The opinion of Rav Yosi Ben Zimra (as explained by the Ramban)-
Yaakov left Chevron on his way to Charan and felt that he had to first go to Beer Sheva (in the opposite direction of his goal) in the same way that when Yitzchack wanted to leave Eretz Yisrael he first went to Beer Sheva. It was in Beer Sheva that he had the dream, and the ladder reached from Beer Sheva until Yerushalayim. The top of the ladder was over the place of the Bet Hamikdash, which is called Bet El (not to be confused with the city mentioned in Yehoshua as Bet El). The monument that Yaakov built was not erected where he awoke (Beer Sheva) but rather at the top of the ladder (Yerushalayim).
The opinion of Rav Yehuda Ben Simon-
Yaakov left Beer Sheva and traveled North until he reached Har Hamoria. It was there that he had the dream and the ladder reached from Har Hamoria until Bet El (the same city that we know about in Yehoshua). The monument that Yaakov built was not erected where he awoke (Yerushalayim) but rather at the top of the ladder (Bet El).
In both positions cited in the Ramban we need to add an additional element that affects the reading of the story. Chazal tell us that Yaakov was fortunate to have the “journey shortened” by “kefitzat haderech” (a miraculous speed of travel). According to Rav Yosi Ben Zimra this took place after the dream on his way to Charan, while according to Rav Yehuda Ben Simon, Yaakov actually got all the way to Charan and was troubled by having passed Har Hamoriah without davening and he therefore returned in a lightning speed as well.
The opinion of Rashi-
Rashi combines many of the elements of the two positions stated above (which is the source of the attack of the Ramban).
According to Rashi, Yaakov left Beer Sheva and traveled North until he reached Charan at which point he was distressed at having missed Har Hamoria. He turned back to Eretz Yisrael and reached Bet El. When he reached Bet El the mountain of Har Hamoria uprooted itself and came to meet him in Bet El. It was there that he had the dream and the ladder reached from Beer Sheva until Bet El while the midpoint of the ladder was directly over Har Hamoria (or at least where it should have been had it not temporarily moved to Bet El) . The monument that Yaakov built was erected where he awoke (Yerushalayim) which was at the same time Bet El.
The Ramban is disturbed by two main points in Rashi:
1. The concept of the “mountain coming to Yaakov” he finds to be an incorrect interpretation of “kefitzat haderch” which generally means that one travels over the ground quickly and not that the ground itself travels.
2. According to Rashi the most important point on the ladder is the center of the ladder, which was aligned with the Bet Hamikdash. The Ramban claims that the center has no greater significance than any other part of the middle of the ladder. The place upon which the ladder is rooted, or its top, are significant, the middle is not.
I encourage all of you to examine the three positions above in light of the pshat of the text. What is each opinion favoring and at what expense? Is the debate a textual one or a philosophical one?
I would like to make one note.
The addition of the Har Hamoria into this story seems at first glance not to be clear. Why would we think that the dream involved that particular location. The refernce at the end of the parsha to “the house of God and the gate of heaven” could simply mean a place in which an inspirational vision took place (as it did in the desert at the burning bush). The connotation is not necessarily related to Har Hamoria.
Rashi himself (as well as the Or Hachyim and Klei Yakar) point to the hint of Har Hamoria in the parsha. Yaakov arrives at “The Place” The definite article is used, not any place but rather The Place. The use of the definite article signifies a previously marked location, one that is clear to the reader and requires no elaboration. The phrase “The Place” is the title used by God in His description to Avraham Avenu concerning the Akeidah.
“On the third day Avraham raised his eyes and saw THE PLACE from affar”
It is the well known mountain that seems the only candidate to be called “The house of God and the gate to heaven”. The term “The Place” is used extensively in Sefer Devarim when describing the location of the future Bet Hamikdash. The Torah never calls Yerushalayim by name, instead it refers to “the place that will be chosen by Hashem”.
If we take a closer look at our parsha we can also notice that the noun “place” is used extensively, six times in the span of only eight pesukim.
Beyond all of the symbolism of the parsha and the story of the dream maybe we are being reminded of a very important lesson wherever we may be traveling, and for whatever purpose, “The Place” remains the same. We are forever anchored to Har Hamoria and we should look towards it for our own dreams.
Sometimes we are aware of our deep rooted connection and at other times it slips our minds. Yaakov himself seems to have passed right by Har Hamoria not giving it a seconds thought. Only after he arrived in Charan and took a moment to reflect did he realize that he erred and he quickly turned around to solve the problem.
May Hashem grant us the same “kefitzat haderech” in our retrn to Har Hamoriah.