Torah Reading for Week of November 11-17, 2018
“Everybody Must Get Stoned”
(with apologies to Bob Dylan)
by Rabbi Joshua Ginsberg-Margo ‘17
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
As I write this, the world is reeling from the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I am both angered and pained by this act of senseless violence born out of hate and ignorance. May all who have suffered loss be comforted and may those injured be restored to full health.
Although not to the same depths as this recent and resounding tragedy, the events in Vayetze demonstrate that life is hard. It is a seemingly never-ending journey of twists and turns, a roller-coaster of emotions, and we are certain to meet formidable obstacles at almost every step. Like the previous parshiot that follow the life of the patriarchs and matriarchs, Vayetze continues to exemplify real life, real struggles, struggles such as loneliness, infertility, and victimization. In a single parsha, Yaakov, in fear of his life, leaves the comfort and comforts of his home. He travels to the land of his ancestors, a land unknown to him. He falls in love with Rachel, and works for seven years to secure her hand in marriage. On the night of his wedding to Rachel, Jacob is deceived by his uncle Laban, and tricked into marrying Leah, Laban’s oldest daughter. He commits to working another seven years to secure the hand of Rachel, and keeps this promise, even though he was able to marry Rachel immediately after he married Leah. He labors another six years for his wages, which would serve as the the foundation of his financial independence.
So, what does it take to make it through life? How do we make this hard life a little softer? The ironic answer can be found with a stone (אבן).
“Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place” (Bereshit 28:11).
At his most vulnerable and lonely, Jacob uses a stone to lift up his head, to support it. While he sleeps, Jacob dreams of the angels, ascending and descending a staircase and sees G-d standing “beside him.” As a show of support, G-d is standing at Jacob’s level, not above him. This is often from where true support comes. Effective crisis intervention occurs when our family and friends, our clergy, our community, and our counselors meet us where we are, reassuring us that we are not alone in our suffering and acting on our behalf until we can once again move forward.
The next morning, Jacob decides to honor the stone that had supported him by consecrating it with oil. The stone becomes a sacred monument to Jacob’s encounter with G-d, and the subsequent promise he made to G-d. It is a monument which honors a physical space (Beth-El) and a memory.
“Early in the morning, Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it…’And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, shall be G-d’s abode; and of all that you give me, I will set aside a tithe for You.’” (Bereshit 28:18,22).
“Stone” is also mentioned in Jacob’s encounter with the “Easterners” as protection, according to the RaDaK (Rabbi David Kimchi), “Since there was nowhere else to water the sheep, they put so large a stone over the well that none of them could get water unless they were ALL there.” For both the well and the shepherds, the stone represents the concept of protection and security.
At the end of Vayetze, stones are again “gathered” to build another monument, which was to act as witness of the pact made between Jacob and Laban. The stones serve as a physical manifestation of the phrase “As G-d as my witness…” and a memorial for both a time and a place.
In Vayetze, the stone is support, protection, a witness, and a monument. It is the symbol for G-d and Jacob’s evolving relationship with G-d. It is a symbol for what helps us through life. Who is the stone in our life at this moment? A family member? A friend? Our community? For whom can we be a stone?
Ribbono shel Olam, I pray that you grant us the discernment to recognize the stones in our lives and to express gratitude for everything they do. As well, to recognize when we can be a stone to someone else in need.