The first line of text in this week’s Torah portion:
וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה <
For the Hebrew students, I will write the Hebrew in transliteration and translation: Vayetze (and went out) Yakov (Jacob) mi-be’er sheva(from Be’er Sheva) vahYehlech (and walked) haranah (to Haran). Pay attention that in Hebrew, the verb likes to be first in the sentence because it is the most important part of speech. The first word in the text is the name of this Torah portion – וַיֵּצֵ֥א -(vayetze). The root (יצא) means ‘to go out’ or ‘to come out’. This Torah portion begins and ends with two major events concerning stones and has a third event in the middle! Let’s look at each. Gen. 28:10-15 is a very important passage because here God reconfirms His covenant with Jacob:
Gen. 28:10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
Gen. 28:11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
Gen. 28:12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
Gen. 28:13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
Gen. 28:14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Gen. 28:15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
The Hebrew word for stone is אֶבֶן (eh-ven). Jacob saw a ladder (סֻלָּם ), soo-lahm, from earth to heaven with God standing at the top of the ladder. He reconfirmed the Covenant that He first gave to Abram in Gen. 12:1-3 and again in Gen. 17:1-8. Later He reconfirmed it to Isaac in Gen. 26:2-5. Many writers have had excellent ideas about the meaning of Jacob’s ladder. I think that it shows us that the events on earth, (ie, physical) where the ladder is based, are linked to events in heaven, (ie, spiritual), where the ladder terminates. Since God is standing at that spot, He is in control of all of it! God is in control of both spiritual and physical realms! While heaven is God’s abode, the earth also belongs to Him (see Psalm 24:1) and He can give the land to whomsoever He wants. So here in the first set of stones, God reconfirms the Promise made to Abraham and Isaac and now – to Jacob concerning His two gifts to them: the place (the land of Israel) and the posterity – the Jewish people.
In Gen. 28:17, we see that Jacob gives this place two names. The first is the ‘house of God’ – בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֔ים – Beit Elohim. In verse 19, this is shortened to בֵּֽית־אֵ֑ל – Beit El or Bethel. The word El is a shortened form of Elohim. Jacob also calls the spot, “the gate of heaven” – שַׁ֥עַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם – Sha-ar HaShamaim.
At the end of this Torah portion, Gen. 31, is the confrontation between Jacob and Laban:
Gen. 31:44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
Gen. 31:45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.
Gen. 31:46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
Gen. 31:47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
Gen. 31:48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
Gen. 31:49 And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
Again Jacob takes a stone (eh-ven) and again sets it up for a pillar. Again a covenant is made – this time between Jacob and Laban. The stones are a boundary – a form of protection. Laban is not to cross the boundary to harm Jacob, and Jacob is never to return to Haran. His future is in the covenant land that God promised him and his descendants. The Hebrew word Mizpah, מִּצְפָּה֙, comes from the root ‘to watch’ and means a watchtower or a lookout point according to the Theological Wordbook of the OT – TWOT.
Finally, the third time the stone occurs in this Torah portion is in the middle in Gen. 29:
Gen. 29:1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.
Gen. 29:2 And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well’s mouth.
Gen. 29:2, 3 and 8 all refer to the stone covering the well where Rachel watered her father’s flock. Large stones were kept over open wells’ to keep anything from falling into the well and poisoning the water supply. Thus the stone ensured the water was pure. It is the stone of purity.
We have only scratched the surface by looking at the stones in this Torah portion. They were used to indicate God’s promise, purity of the water, and protection. Every single word in God’s Word is amazing and full of meaning. Let us learn to read God’s Word slowly, to dig in and get all the riches out that God put in there for us.