The Gateway to Heaven
This week's parsha recounts Jacob's flight from his brother, Esau, to his uncle, Lavan's home. There he marries Leah and Rachel and there they (and Zilpah & Bilhah) bear him eleven sons (Benjamin was born to Rachel later). On his way to Lavan, Jacob rests and dreams his famous "ladder" dream. This is a divine vision in which God promises Jacob to guard him on his way and to bless him with many offspring who will inherit the Land of Israel.
Let us begin with a difficulty in the Torah text itself and proceed to Rashi. After Jacob awakens from his dream, he vows that if God's promises are fulfilled, Jacob will build Him an altar and he will offer up a tithe to God.
"And this stone which I have set as a monument, will become a House of God and all You give I will give a tenth to You."
QUESTIONING THE TEXT
Look at our verse and compare its grammar with that of the previous verses (20-21) of Jacob's vow. Do you see a problem?
A DIFFICULTY IN THE TEXT
A Question: Jacob refers to God in the second person in our verse ("all that You give me I will give You a tenth"). But in verses 20-21 he refers to God in the third person ("if God will be with me, and He will guard me and He will give me..."). Why this switch from indirect (third person) reference to God to a direct (second person) reference to Him?
To understand this we will now look at the Rashi-comment.
In the long Rashi on the words "This is the House of God" Rashi makes the following comment:
"When he reached Haran he (Jacob) said 'Is it possible that I passed the place (Mount Moriah) where my fathers prayed without my having prayed there?' He decided to go back (to Moriah)" etc.
Compare this statement with verse 17 and Jacob's surprise. What would you ask?
Why was Jacob surprised that the place where he slept was a holy place? Had he not intentionally returned there precisely because he thought it was special for his fathers had prayed there?
Can you suggest an answer?
A SUGGESTED ANSWER
Jacob knew that Moriah was a holy place. There Abraham and Isaac proved their faith in God by going through the Akeida ordeal. The place was holy because his fathers had had a divine experience there. It was a place that Jacob knew through tradition as a holy place. For him, God (Elokim – the more impersonal name for God) ) was here.
But after his "ladder dream," which was Jacob's personal vision from God, Jacob personally experienced God himself, not just as a tradition from his forefathers but as a personal religious experience. Now God was to Jacob not the third person, indirect 'Elokim,' but the second person, direct, 'Hashem,' the personal God.
So Jacob says: If my dream is fulfilled I will know this was not just an ordinary dream, but a true prophecy from God to me personally. Then Elokim will become for me Hashem – I will no longer refer to Him indirectly. And I only now realize how holy this place is for me. It is my gateway to heaven – to God. I will then speak directly to Him as in "and all You give me I will give You a tenth."
There is always much mystery and deeper meaning in the subtle nuances of the Torah's words.