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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayeitzei (74)

As we look at the story of Jacob's ladder-dream at the beginning of this sedra, there are several questions that can be asked.

Jacob is on his way to Charan and the sun sets. He lies down, falls asleep and has a dream. When he awakes he says "(verse 28:16) "In truth Hashem is in this place, but I did not know it."


But this is difficult in light of one of Rashi's comments (see the middle of his long comment on verse 28:17). Rashi says that Jacob passed by the place where the Temple would be built in the future (Jerusalem), then when he arrived at Charan he said 'Is it possible that I passed the place where my fathers prayed and myself didn't pray there ?' He decided to return etc.

We see that Jacob returned intentionally to the place where his fathers had prayed, so he was fully aware that the place was a holy place. He must have known that this was the "House of G-d and this was the gateway to heaven"? Why then was he so surprised?

We can ask another question about Jacob's vow itself (verses 28:20-22):

He says "If G-d will be with me and He will guard me on this path that I am going. And He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear. ..and Hashem will be my G-d. .and all You give me I will surely give You a tenth."

Notice how Jacob initially refers to G-d in the third person (He will guard me, He will give me bread ) then he surprisingly switches to the second person "all You give me, I will give You a tenth." This is a striking inconsistency. Why does he do this? Can you explain this?


We must pay close attention to the two names of G-d used in this section. One is Elohim (G-d) and the other is the ineffable Name Y-H-V-H. The former is the more impersonal mover of natural phenomena; the latter is the more personal G-d, unique to Am Yisroel and conveying the idea of mercy and personal involvement.

Now when we consider that Jacob had a dream of G-d's promise to guard him, Jacob wasn't sure if this was a prophetic vision or just an ordinary "wish fulfillment" type of dream. This is what he is saying: If I see at the end of my journey, that the dream was fulfilled, I will realize that Hashem had actually appeared to me in that dream and at this place. This wasn't just the place where my fathers' prayed - that would be a place where Elohim (G-d), the less personal G-d of my tradition, is located. But it would not be a place where I met Hashem, that personal G-d. If, on the other hand, this was a bona fide prophecy, then my experience was a personal encounter with Hashem. This personal-type relationship enables one to speak to Hashem in the more familiar, second person (You) and not the impersonal third person (He). This is exactly what Jacob says (28:21) "And Hashem will be my G-d (Elohim)" meaning that then my relationship with the Divine will not be of the less personal kind, of merely praying in the place where my fathers did. It will be, rather, the intimate relationship of having personally received a vision from Hashem.

This is similar to the formula we use when make any blessing. " Blessed are You Hashem, King of the world, that all was created by His word." We begin with the personal, second person ("You, Hashem") and then we switch to the less personal, third person ("His word"). This shows the two-faceted nature our relationship with Hashem. Jacob, on the other hand, could have an exclusively personal connection to G-d after his divine vision.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek "What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. All 5 volumes on What's Bothering Rashi? are available in Jewish book stores.

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