Cleaving to the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
וידר יעקב… והאבן הזאת יהיה בית א-הים
“Remember Avraham Yitzhak and Israel Your servants to whom You swore saying… this whole Land shall be given to your descendants and they shall ineherit it forever.”
Just as HaShem swears that the Land of Israel will be dedicated to the People of Israel, so too we see in this week’s parsha, in our title quote, a swearing on the part of Yakov, forerunner of the People of Israel, that he will retain his dedication to a specific location in the Land of Israel, Bet El, by forming a House for God at this location upon his return. Indeed, we see that, although generally speaking halacha frowns upon swearing, in regard to strengthening oneself to commit a mitzva, halacha maintains that such a measure may be considered commendable.
Halacha goes even further to say that because of the great value towards committing a mitzva, even the mere utterance that one intends to commit a mitzva is to be considered a vow even if not using the proper terminology for a vow or oath as is generally required. Such is the case of one who states that he plans to come to the Land of Israel, considered under the stringent category of such ‘mitzva-vows’, unless he explicitly says ‘bli neder’ or the like. In fact, the main source that a ‘mitzva vow’ may be considered commendable is learned from the vow of Yakov, which exhibits Yakov’s dedication to the Holy Land just before exiting it.
In continuation of our analysis of the relationships between locations in the Land Israel, as in last week’s parsha, let us examine the significance of Bet El as being the site of this vow of Yakov. To begin with, it seems that our Sages reveal an important clue in understanding the relationship between Bet El, Beer Sheva and Jerusalem. Our Sages teach that Yakov saw the bottom of the ladder in his prophetic dream being rooted at Beer Sheva, its head reaching the heavens directly above Bet El, while the middle of this ladder stood directly above the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is highly likely that our Sages wish to teach us the spiritual relationships between these locations in this image, putting Bet El at one extreme, Beer Sheva at the opposite extreme, and Jerusalem at the middle.
In parshat Toldot we explained how Beer Sheva is strongly associated with Yitzhak and also with feminine spirituality. Interestingly, we find Bet El first mentioned in the encampments of Avraham long before Yitzhak was born. The name Bet El also signifies the attribute of Avraham, the Father associated with the attribute of kindness, an attribute that is tied to God’s Name “El”. Our Sages teach that if Yitzhak represents more feminine spirituality, then it is Avraham his counterpart who represents masculine spirituality. The fact that the vow of Yakov to retain devotion to the Land of Israel even in the Diaspora occurs in Bet El fits perfectly with the depiction of the Land of Israel as wife, while the People of Israel are depicted as her husband. In this sense, it is Yakov the prototype of Israel the People, the husband, who takes the initiative at this location to vow and continue devotion towards the wife, the Holy Land, even when the ‘husband’ is physically afar from the Holy Land in the Diaspora. Once we identify Bet El, the ‘heavenly’ side of the ladder, as representing a more masculine location, and Beer Sheva, the ‘earthly’ side of the ladder, as a more feminine location, we come to the conclusion that Jerusalem, ‘middle of the ladder’, represents the unity between the husband, Israel, and the wife, the Holy Land.
This conceptualization fits perfectly with the name Jerusalem, representing the revelation of the Holy Presence of the Land and the Temple to the People in the word Yeru-Yeraeh (as called by Avraham at the Akeida) – “Hashem’s Revelation will be seen”, along with Shalem (as in ‘Malkitzedek the king of Shalem’)-one whole unit, representing the unity between the soul of Israel and the soul of the Holy Land- the Holy Presence in this holy city. In the past we have shown that both Jerusalem and Hebron represent the deep connection of Israel to the Holy Land. According to the Arizal, these two cities indeed represent the union of the ‘husband’ – Israel to the ‘wife’ – the Holy Land just as Yakov married Leah and Rachel, spiritualy considered to be one wife, although manifested in two separate bodies/forms. In this way, the Arizal explains that Hebron represents the union with Rachel, while Jerusalem represents the union with Leah, both deeply united together in the Light of the Holy Presence.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #146
“I live in Kiryat Arba-Hebron. One day I was in a hospital in Jerusalem, when one man, who I didn’t know, suddenly asked me for tehilim to pray from. After helping him, he suddenly offered some fragrant plant to say a blessing on, adding that it was plucked from the Field of Machpela in Hebron. I immediately commented that I live and study in Hebron. ‘It turns out’ that these man really lives in Tiberias (Northern Israel), but just recently had been doing household repairs at a family in Hebron and was in the hospital due to a work-accident.” M.A.Y