Saturday, November 28, 2009

Parshat Vayishlach 5770 -Give Truth To Yaakov

Parshat Vayishlach 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

Give Truth To Yaakov

Seeing Angels
As the parsha opens, Yaakov is once again on the move.  This time he is returning home, to the Land of Israel. As has been the case since before his birth, drama and intrigue seem to be Yaakov’s constant companions, and this journey is no exception: He fled Israel to escape his brother Esav, who had sworn to kill him, and as he leaves his father-in-law Lavan’s home, he is once again being pursued. God Himself intercedes on Yaakov's behalf and warns Lavan against harming Yaakov, clearing the way for Yaakov to finally confront his brother Esav.

This parsha, not unlike the preceding one, is a study in identity. Who is Yaakov – really? From the moment of his birth, his identity is seen through an ever-shifting prism: Yaakov is given a name which reflects his problematic relationship with his twin brother. He is then described as "ish tam, yoshev ohalim"[1]a pure or innocent man, morally unblemished, a man of home and hearth, a man of the study hall. Yet this is an "editorial" comment on his true character which seems quite different than the way his own parents view him, and it is a description which clashes spectacularly with the trajectory that his life takes. Yaakov, the innocent, makes his brother 'an offer he can't refuse', and assumes the identity of firstborn. Later, he is forced to take on the identity of his brother Esav. As a result, the "man of the tents" is dispossessed of his home and family, and for years is left to survive by his own cunning and wits in an extremely corrupt environment. Does Yaakov even remember who he is? The simple, introverted, studious man we met last week has become a shrewd businessman, a very wealthy man, a formidable adversary at the negotiating table - a far cry from the ish tam, indeed.

In fact, the question of Yaakov's identity comes bubbling to the surface as he stands poised to meet Esav. Yaakov fears this confrontation, and as he reaches the border of his ancestral land, he prepares for it in various ways. This is a moment of introspection and stock-taking, as well as tactical, practical preparation. Both types of preparation have much to tell us about the nature of Yaakov's fears, and the identity crisis involved.

Yaakov prepares his household for the worst, and sends in a reconnaissance unit with a conciliatory message for Esav, hoping to avert confrontation. The commentaries approach these preparations from different angles. First, Yaakov's message is examined; more precisely, the messengers themselves become an important topic of discussion. Who were these messengers?

ספר בראשית פרק לב, פסוק ד
 וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו אֶל עֵשָׂו אָחִיו אַרְצָה שֵׂעִיר שְׂדֵה אֱדוֹם:
And Yaakov sent emissaries ahead of him to his brother Esav in the Land of Seir, to the fields of Edom. (Bereishit 32, 4)

Rashi examines the word malachim, which may be construed as either human or celestial messengers. Were these emissaries men in his employ - household staff, or “angels” - celestial messengers?[2] Rashi says that they were the latter: Yaakov sent angels to his brother Esav. While this may sound like a highly imaginative interpretation to some readers, who would prefer the simple, more mundane interpretation –“messengers”, it is wholly in keeping with what we know about Yaakov, and the context in which this episode appears. Yaakov has had interaction with angels before, especially when he travels. When he left Israel, he had a vision of a heavenly ladder upon which angels ascended and descended. This was no simple dream; the vision of these angels changed Yaakov's perspective, changed his life: he understood the holiness of the place on which he stood, and the ability to connect, through it, to God. The angels that he saw were not merely the product of an over- active imagination, part of a strange and disturbing dream. Angels became a very real part of Yaakov's life as he left the Land of Israel, and now, as he is poised to return, his travels are once again accompanied by angels. Note the verses that immediately precede this week’s parsha:

ספר בראשית פרק לב, ב-ג
וְיַעֲקֹב הָלַךְ לְדַרְכּוֹ וַיִּפְגְּעוּ בוֹ מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים: וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר רָאָם מַחֲנֵה אֱלֹהִים זֶה וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא מַחֲנָיִם:
And Yaakov went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Yaakov saw them, he said, 'This is God’s encampment; and he called the name of that place Mahanaim. Bereishit 32:2,3

Just as Yaakov saw angels in a dream as he prepared to leave Israel, he is met by angels as he prepares to re-enter. And as he prepares to confront Esav, in the very next verse, the angels are his emissaries. This being so, we may be even more puzzled than before Rashi's comments: If these angels of God are in Yaakov's service, and Yaakov is fulfilling the will of God, why all the angst? Why is Yaakov so fearful of the confrontation with Esav? In the words of the Shem Mishmuel, if any single angel could have wreaked havoc upon Esav and his camp, why fear the confrontation?[3]

בראשית פרק לב, ח
וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ וַיַּחַץ אֶת הָעָם אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ וְאֶת הַצֹּאן וְאֶת הַבָּקָר וְהַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת:
Then Yaakov was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, in two camps; Bereishit 32:8

Yaakov makes a pragmatic military decision, and divides the family into two separate camps. Lest we forget, this happens at the very place Yaakov was met by angels - the place Yaakov names Machanaim. The connection between the preceding parsha and the present parsha, the angels who meet and accompany him and the angels he sends to Esav, is reinforced by the name which reflects both the "encampment of God's angels" and his own household, divided into two camps.

 בראשית פרק לב
(ט) וַיֹּאמֶר אִם יָבוֹא עֵשָׂו אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה הָאַחַת וְהִכָּהוּ וְהָיָה הַמַּחֲנֶה הַנִּשְׁאָר לִפְלֵיטָה: (י) וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי אַבְרָהָם וֵאלֹהֵי אָבִי יִצְחָקה’הָאֹמֵר אֵלַי שׁוּב לְאַרְצְךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתְּךָ וְאֵיטִיבָה עִמָּךְ: (יא) קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִי לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת:
And Yaakov said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, Return to your country, and to your family, and I will deal well with you. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which you have shown to your servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I have become two camps. Bereishit 32:9-11

Only now, when Yaakov separates his family and makes mention of the two camps, the full meaning of the name of this place, where he saw angels for the second time, seems clear. Strangely enough, Yaakov made no mention of his earlier vision of angels when he first named this place. Only now, when he divides his family and possessions into two camps, he is given to introspection and retrospection. He recalls that he was destitute and alone when he crossed the river in the other direction, and he makes a comparison with his present status. But how unequivocal is his description of his good fortune? Is the fact that he has just divided his household into two separate camps in order to avoid a holocaust a completely positive statement? And if the reference is somewhat tentative, the overtones are downright ominous: The Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan teaches that the division itself portended tragedy: Yaakov separated Leah's camp from Rachel's, along the deep fault-line whose negative impact has shaped Jewish history ever since. Is this, or is this not, one family? Are Yaakov’s children united? Do some enjoy a favored status? Are they all equal, or are some are "more equal" than others?

When the moment to meet Esav arrives Yaakov again divides the camp; this time, the division is precise and specific, the hierarchy clear:

ספר בראשית פרק לג
(א) וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה עֵשָׂו בָּא וְעִמּוֹ אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וַיַּחַץ אֶת הַיְלָדִים עַל לֵאָה וְעַל רָחֵל וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַשְּׁפָחוֹת: (ב) וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת הַשְּׁפָחוֹת וְאֶת יַלְדֵיהֶן רִאשֹׁנָה וְאֶת לֵאָה וִילָדֶיהָ אַחֲרֹנִים וְאֶת רָחֵל וְאֶת יוֹסֵף אַחֲרֹנִים:
1. And Yaakov lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esav came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children to Leah, and to Rachel, and to the two maidservants. 2. And he put the maidservants and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Yosef after. Bereishit 33:1,2

What kind of impact would this favoritism have on future generations?[4] The rift that existed from the very start persisted for generations, and eventually caused the disintegration of the United Commonwealth. The prophecy of Hoshea, in whose lifetime this rift burgeoned into a chasm, has much to say about this division, its origins – and its eventual resolution:

הושע פרק א,א; פרק ב, א
דְּבַר ה’ אֲשֶׁר הָיָה אֶל הוֹשֵׁעַ בֶּן בְּאֵרִי בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּה יוֹתָם אָחָז יְחִזְקִיָּה מַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה וּבִימֵי יָרָבְעָם בֶּן יוֹאָשׁ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל:... וְהָיָה מִסְפַּר בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּחוֹל הַיָּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִמַּד וְלֹא יִסָּפֵר וְהָיָה בִּמְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר לָהֶם לֹא עַמִּי אַתֶּם יֵאָמֵר לָהֶם בְּנֵי אֵל חָי: (ב) וְנִקְבְּצוּ בְּנֵי יְהוּדָה וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל יַחְדָּו וְשָׂמוּ לָהֶם רֹאשׁ אֶחָד וְעָלוּ מִן הָאָרֶץ כִּי גָדוֹל יוֹם יִזְרְעֶאל:
The word of God that came to Hoshea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Yotam, Ahaz, and Yehizkiyah, kings of Yehuda, and in the days of Yerov'am the son of Yoash, king of Israel…And the number of the people of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor counted; and it shall come to pass, that instead of saying to one another, 'You are not my people,' they shall say to one another, 'You are the sons of the living God.' Then shall the people of Yehuda and the people of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up from the land; for great shall be the day of Yizra'el. Hoshea 1, 1; 2,1

Hoshea examines the political and national landscape, and sees before him the just desserts of a corrupt society that has turned its back on truth:

הושע פרק ד, א-ו
שִׁמְעוּ דְבַר ה’ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי רִיב לַה’ עִם יוֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ כִּי אֵין אֱמֶת וְאֵין חֶסֶד וְאֵין דַּעַת אֱלֹהִים בָּאָרֶץ: אָלֹה וְכַחֵשׁ וְרָצֹחַ וְגָנֹב וְנָאֹף פָּרָצוּ וְדָמִים בְּדָמִים נָגָעוּ: עַל כֵּן תֶּאֱבַל הָאָרֶץ וְאֻמְלַל כָּל יוֹשֵׁב בָּהּ בְּחַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם וְגַם דְּגֵי הַיָּם יֵאָסֵפוּ:... נִדְמוּ עַמִּי מִבְּלִי הַדָּעַת כִּי אַתָּה הַדַּעַת מָאַסְתָּ ואמאסאך וְאֶמְאָסְךָ מִכַּהֵן לִי וַתִּשְׁכַּח תוֹרַת אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶשְׁכַּח בָּנֶיךָ גַּם אָנִי:
Hear the word of God, People of Israel; for God has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, no mercy, no knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and adultery; they break all bounds, and blood leads to blood. Therefore shall the land mourn, and everyone who dwells in it shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the birds of heaven; the fishes of the sea shall also be taken away… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you shall not be a priest to me; seeing that you have forgotten the Torah of your God, I will also forget your children. Hoshea 4:1-6

How can the People of Israel have sunk so low? How can this "kingdom of priests and holy nation" have deteriorated to this degree? Hoshea lays the blame for their decadence at Yaakov's feet; he sees the seeds of their iniquity and disunity in Yaakov's behavior in our parsha:

הושע פרק יב, א-ט"ו
סְבָבֻנִי בְכַחַשׁ אֶפְרַיִם וּבְמִרְמָה בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וִיהוּדָה עֹד רָד עִם אֵל וְעִם קְדוֹשִׁים נֶאֱמָן:  אֶפְרַיִם רֹעֶה רוּחַ וְרֹדֵף קָדִים כָּל הַיּוֹם כָּזָב וָשֹׁד יַרְבֶּה וּבְרִית עִם אַשּׁוּר יִכְרֹתוּ וְשֶׁמֶן לְמִצְרַיִם יוּבָל: וְרִיב לַה’ עִם יְהוּדָה וְלִפְקֹד עַל יַעֲקֹב כִּדְרָכָיו כְּמַעֲלָלָיו יָשִׁיב לוֹ: בַּבֶּטֶן עָקַב אֶת אָחִיו וּבְאוֹנוֹ שָׂרָה אֶת אֱלֹהִים: וַיָּשַׂר אֶל מַלְאָךְ וַיֻּכָל בָּכָה וַיִּתְחַנֶּן לוֹ בֵּית אֵל יִמְצָאֶנּוּ וְשָׁם יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ:  וַה’ אֱלֹהֵי הַצְּבָאוֹת ה’ זִכְרוֹ: וְאַתָּה בֵּאלֹהֶיךָ תָשׁוּב חֶסֶד וּמִשְׁפָּט שְׁמֹר וְקַוֵּה אֶל אֱלֹהֶיךָ תָּמִיד: ...וְאָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם עֹד אוֹשִׁיבְךָ בָאֳהָלִים כִּימֵי מוֹעֵד...
Ephraim surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Yehuda still rules with God, and is faithful with the holy ones. Ephraim guards the wind, and follows after the east wind; he daily increases lies and desolation; and they make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried to Egypt. God has also a controversy with Yehuda, and will punish Yaakov according to his ways; according to his doings will he reward him. He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had strove with the powerful; And he strove with an angel, and prevailed; he (the angel) wept, and made supplication to (Yaakov); he found him in Beit-El, and there He spoke with us; And the Almighty is the God of hosts; the Almighty is his name. Therefore turn to your God; keep loving kindness and judgment, and wait on your God continually. ... And I, Almighty your God, will yet redeem you from the land of Egypt, and make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the (past). Hoshea 12: 1-16

Yaakov is criticized for wrestling with his brother in the womb, and the prophet draws a line directly to the wrestling years later, between Yaakov and a mysterious stranger. After dividing the camp for the first time that night, before Yaakov faces his brother, before he divides the camp a second time, he finds himself alone and vulnerable in the dark, and he is accosted: 

בראשית פרק לב, כה-ל
וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּוֹ וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר: וַיַּרְא כִּי לֹא יָכֹל לוֹ וַיִּגַּע בְּכַף יְרֵכוֹ וַתֵּקַע כַּף יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב בְּהֵאָבְקוֹ עִמּוֹ: וַיֹּאמֶר שַׁלְּחֵנִי כִּי עָלָה הַשָּׁחַר וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחֲךָ כִּי אִם בֵּרַכְתָּנִי: וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַה שְּׁמֶךָ וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב: וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי שָׂרִיתָ עִם אֱלֹהִים וְעִם אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל:וַיִּשְׁאַל יַעֲקֹב וַיֹּאמֶר הַגִּידָה נָּא שְׁמֶךָ וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ שָׁם:
And Yaakov was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the break of day. And when he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Yaakov’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.  And he said, 'Let me go, for the day breaks.' And he said, 'I will not let you go, unless you bless me.' And he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Yaakov.' And he said, 'Your name shall be called no more Yaakov, but Yisrael; for you have struggled with the powerful and with men, and have prevailed.' And Yaakov asked him, and said, 'Tell me, I beg you, your name.' And he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And he blessed him there. Bereishit 32:25-30

The entire scene circles around the question of identity – shrouded, revealed, mistaken, hidden. While the struggle changes Yaakov's identity, the identity of the mysterious attacker is never revealed. As readers, millennia of Jewish persecution may make us overlook the fact that this unprovoked attack is carried out by a nameless adversary: Random attacks, or fear of such attacks, are nothing out of the ordinary in Jewish history. Yaakov himself seeks no explanation or motive; he asks only that his attacker identify himself. Generations later, in the prophecy quoted above, Hoshea reveals the identity of this mysterious adversary; it is yet another angel. “And he strove with an angel, and prevailed.”

Why did the angel attack Yaakov? What had he done wrong? The Targum (pseudo) Yonatan[5] seems to weave Hoshea's prophecy into his commentary, suggesting that God sent this angel because Yaakov had not been truthful: Before leaving the Land of Israel, Yaakov had vowed to tithe one tenth of everything God gave him, and that vow had not been fulfilled.[6] Now, as Yaakov took stock of his situation, one of the things he thanked God for was the truth bestowed upon him: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth,[7] which you have shown to your servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I have become two camps.” Apparently God does not think that Yaakov has embraced truth. This same problem surfaces in Hoshea's prophecy, in the form of a dubious legacy passed down from Yaakov to his descendents which eventually leads to their ruin.

Rabbi Eliezer of Germiza, a mystic of the Middle Ages, said that the angel who attacked Yaakov came dressed as Esav, and he had a complaint: He said to Yaakov, "You are a liar! Why did you say (to your father) 'I am Esav your firstborn”? Yaakov protests: he had purchased the birthright from Esav years earlier. The angel then asks, “What is your name?,” and points out that " 'Yaakov' is a name of deception and chicanery. Your name should be 'Yisrael' – a name that implies yosher (being straight or upstanding): You must be yashar (straight) with God.[8]

This seems somewhat of a departure from the straightforward meaning of the text. The angel himself explains[9] the name that will replace 'Yaakov'; this new identity has to do with struggle, with overpowering invincible adversaries. Sarita, the word that lies at the root of Yisrael, denotes both struggle and power. The name is pronounced with the letter sin (sarita), and not the letter shin (yashar). Apparently, Rabbi Eliezer of Germiza looked beyond the explanation of the word itself, and sought the essential lesson for Yisrael – the individual, and the nation of his namesakes: The identity of the Jew, the essence of what Yisrael and all of the Children of Yisrael should strive to be, is reflected in this name: honest, truthful, upright – yashar. In the words of the Kli Yakar, the name Yisrael comes from the word Yashar El, to be straight with God. Although other men will not always perceive the righteousness of Yisrael's ways, God can see to the heart of the matter. The struggle to maintain inner clarity, to pursue God's truth despite obstacles and seeming falsehood, is the struggle that Yaakov/Yisrael faced, and he prevailed. Many of the episodes in his life seemed to lead him off the straight path of truth, but he never lost sight of God's plan, of God's will.[10] This was his true identity, his eventual identity. He was able to follow his internal moral compass despite the situations into which he was thrust. Although his actions were looked at askance by human eyes, although he struggled with mortal and divine challenges to his inner truth, he emerged victorious. To rephrase Rabbi Eliezer's comments: the name Yisrael derives from sarita which means struggle; the meaning of the struggle is to achieve yosher.

Yaakov spent the majority of his life dealing with dishonest people, and often played according to their rules. In order to contend with Esav and Lavan, Yaakov acquired survival skills. What lessons are there in Yaakov's behavior for future generations? The Prophet Hoshea was unequivocal: “God has also a controversy with Yehuda, and will punish Yaakov according to his ways; according to his doings will he reward him. He took his brother by the heel in the womb…”[11]

While Yaakov's actions may have been justified, Hoshea lays the blame for future generations’ immorality at Yaakov's doorstep, implying that many generations of unscrupulous businessmen learned from Yaakov's ways.

Yaakov becomes Yisrael, and the struggle continues. The validity of the moral compass remains, but the path to becoming yashar still lies ahead. One more stage is required in the metamorphosis, a stage that links the innocence of Yaakov's youth with the strength and heroic behavior of his adulthood. [12] A bridge must be created between Yaakov ish tam yoshev ohalim, the “innocent (perfect) man, a dweller in tents”, and Yisrael – sarita im elohim ve'im anashim vatuchal - the vanquisher of the mighty, the independent man who remains true to God's will.

In the book of Dvarim, we find the expression of this identity, the final stage in the development of Yaakov's persona: “Yeshurun”:

ספר דברים פרק לג, ה
  וַיְהִי בִישֻׁרוּן מֶלֶךְ בְּהִתְאַסֵּף רָאשֵׁי עָם יַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
And He was king in Yeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together. Dvarim 33:5[13]

The name Yeshurun has the word yashar, upright or honest, as its root. Thus, while the name 'Yaakov' denotes trickery,[14] and the name 'Yisrael' indicates strife, The name Yeshurun is used here to describe a nation united as one, rallying around the ultimate goal of the Jewish People: to be upright and honest.

In the course of exile the Jews have often been forced to take use questionable means to protect themselves. While this behavior may often have been a necessary evil, it was far from ideal. It was not always 'straight and honest'. Ultimately, our destiny – our identity- is to be a light unto the nations, a beacon of morality, ethics and decency that will show all peoples of the world the beauty of the word of God. Yishayahu, the same prophet who spoke of being a “light to the nations,” also spoke of comfort for the Jews that will come when we are finally returned to our land and our natural innocence, when what is crooked will be may straight, when Yaakov will be perceived as Yeshurun.

ישעיהו פרק מ
(א) נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: (ב) דַּבְּרוּ עַל לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד ה’ כִּפְלַיִם בְּכָל חַטֹּאתֶיהָ: ס
(ג) קוֹל קוֹרֵא בַּמִּדְבָּר פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ ה’ יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ: (ד) כָּל גֶּיא יִנָּשֵׂא וְכָל הַר וְגִבְעָה יִשְׁפָּלוּ וְהָיָה הֶעָקֹב לְמִישׁוֹר וְהָרְכָסִים לְבִקְעָה: (ה) וְנִגְלָה כְּבוֹד ה’ וְרָאוּ כָל בָּשָׂר יַחְדָּו כִּי פִּי ה’ דִּבֵּר: ס
Comfort my people, comfort them, says your God. Speak to Jerusalem's heart, and cry out to her, that her fighting is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Almighty's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries in the wilderness, 'Prepare the path of God, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the ridges made into valleys; And the glory of God shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see as together that the mouth of God has spoken. Yishayahu 40:1-5

Similarly, in the same prophecy in which Hoshea rejects Yaakov's behavior, he speaks of the eventual resolution of Yisrael's strife: God's promise to him and his descendents is that they will one day shed the clothes of deceit and return to their true identity, to dwell in the tents of truth, kindness and justice:

And I, the Almighty your God, will yet redeem you …, and make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the (past). Hoshea 12: 1-16

The Jewish People will no longer define their existence through the seemingly-endless struggle with falsehood and evil. The transformation from Yaakov to Yisrael will reach its final stage, and both of these names will be left behind as our true identity emerges: Yeshurun, the straight and upstanding servant of God. This identity can only emerge when the rift in the Jewish People, expressed by the division of the family of Yaakov into two camps, is finally healed:

ספר דברים פרק לג, ה
  וַיְהִי בִישֻׁרוּן מֶלֶךְ בְּהִתְאַסֵּף רָאשֵׁי עָם יַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
And He was king in Yeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together. Dvarim 33:5

[1] Bereishit 25:27
[2] Rashi 32:4
רש"י בראשית פרק לב פסוק ד
וישלח יעקב מלאכים - מלאכים ממש:
[3] Shem Mishmuel Parshat Vayishlach 5681
ספר שם משמואל פרשת וישלח - שנת תרפ"א
והנה הכל תמהו, מאחר שהיו לו כ"כ הרבה מלאכים א"כ מוכח שהוא נרצה להשי"ת, ומה הי' לו עוד להתירא מעשו, הרי מלאך אחד הי' די לכל מחנה סנחריב. ועוד למה צריך למלאכים רבים בשליחות הזאת, ולמה לא סגי באחד, עד שנצרך ליטול מאלו ומאלו.

[4] Rabbenu Bachaya Bereishit 32:8, says it was future considerations that motivated Yaakov, that if one community is ever attacked, another community would still carry on.
רבינו בחיי על בראשית פרק לב פסוק ח
ובמדרש אם יבא עשו אל המחנה האחת והכהו, אלו אחינו שבדרום, והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה אלו אחינו שבגולה. כוונתם לומר כי יודע היה יעקב אבינו כי המחנה האחת ישאר לפלטה על כל פנים. והוא רמז לדורות שאין כל זרעו נופל ביד בני עשו ולא יכלו כלם באורך גלותם, אבל ישארו לפליטה על כרחו של עשו:
וכן דרשו רז"ל והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה, על כרחו. והכוונה כי אם יקום מלך ויגזור עלינו גרושין או אבדן גוף וממון באחת הארצות, הנה מלך אחר במקום אחר יקבץ וירחם, ולזה כוונו רז"ל במדרש זה:

[5] The Midrash Tanchuma (Buber edition) Vayishlach section 22, also associates this attack with Yaakov’s failure to fulfill his vow.
מדרש תנחומא (בובר) פרשת וישלח סימן כב
וישר אל מלאך ויוכל וגו' (הושע יב ה), מה דיבר עמו א"ל לך שלם את נדרך, טוב אשר לא תדור וגו' (קהלת ה ד),
[6] In a fascinating twist, the Targum suggests that the way to fulfill the vow is by giving one of his children to divine service. An accounting is done, and Levi is chosen.
כתר יונתן בראשית פרק לב פסוק כה
(כה) וישאר יעקב לבדו מעבר [לנהר] יובק ויאבק מלאך עִמו כדמות איש ויאמר הלא אמרת לעשר כל שלך והנה יש לך תריסר בנים ובת אחת ולא עִשׁרתם, מיד הפריש ארבע בכורים, לארבעה אִמהות, ונשארו שמונה ושנה למנות מִשׁמעון, ועלה לוי במעשר, ענה מיכאל ויאמר רִבונו של עולם, זה הוא חלקך, ועל עִנין הדברים האלה הִשׁתהה מעבר לנחל עד עלות עמוד השחר
[7] The Sfat Emet questions the relevance of the word emet (truth) in Yaakov’s prayer.
שפת אמת ליקוטים - פרשת וישלח
קטנתי וגו' ומכל האמת אשר עשית את עבדך וגו' וקשה מאי שייך על אמת קטנתי כיון שהוא על פי דין ומשפט אמת,

[8] Rabbi Eliezer of Germiza, (12th Century) Hilchot Hakisei, Hilchot Melachim.
ספר הלכות הכסא לרבי אלעזר מגרמזיא - הלכות המלאכים
וכך בא המלאך כדמות עשו ליעקב ואמר לו, שקרן אתה, למה אמרת אנכי עשו בכורך. אמר לו, שקניתי בכורתך ואמרתי (בגשיתי) [עשיתי] כאשר צויתני הרבה פעמים. אמר לו, ומה שמך. אמר לו, יעקב. אמר, לא יעקב לשון עקבה ומרמה, כי אם ישראל, ישר לאל וראוי לברכה, דכתיב (משלי כח, כ) (ל)איש אמונות רב ברכות, (צפניה ג, יג) שארית ישראל לא ידברו כזב, (במדבר כג, כ כא) לא הביט און ביעקב וברך ולא אשיבנה. וכשהיו הכהנים מזכירין השם במקדש, היו המלאכים יורדים נ"א רבוא וח' אלפים ות' וממלאים העולם כולו:
[9] Bereishit 32:29
[10] Kli Yakar Bereishit 32:29
כלי יקר על בראשית פרק לב פסוק כט
ויאמר לא יעקב יאמר עוד שמך כי אם ישראל. לשון ישר אל כי ישר הוא לשון ראייה, מלשון אשורנו ולא קרוב, והודה לו בזה כי יעקב רואה פני אל ולא עלתה בידו לסמא אותו במציאות האל יתברך, ובאמרו כי שרית עם אלהים עקר שם יעקב ממנו, כי יעקב מורה על עקוב הלב מכל ואנוש הוא (ירמיה יז ט) וישראל לשון מישור כמ"ש לעתיד (ישעיה מ ד) והיה העקוב למישור, ולא מישור הנראה ישר בעיני הבריות כ"א הנראה ישר בעיני אלהים ואדם, ע"כ אמר כי שרית עם אלהים ואנשים, כי ע"י כושר מפעלך תהיה שר ונגיד עם אלהים ואנשים ותוכל, וזהו ישראל ישר אל, מישור הנראה גם בעיני האל ית':

[11] Rashi, in his comments on 32:29, describing Yaakov’s name change, cites this verse in Hoshea.
רש"י בראשית פרק לב פסוק כט
(כט) לא יעקב - לא יאמר עוד שהברכות באו לך בעקבה וברמיה כי אם בשררה ובגלוי פנים, וסופך שהקב"ה נגלה עליך בבית אל ומחליף את שמך, ושם הוא מברכך, ואני שם אהיה ואודה לך עליהן, וזהו שכתוב (הושע יב ה) וישר אל מלאך ויוכל בכה ויתחנן לו, בכה המלאך ויתחנן לו, ומה נתחנן לו (שם) בית אל ימצאנו ושם ידבר עמנו, המתן לי עד שידבר עמנו שם, ולא רצה יעקב, ועל כרחו הודה לו עליהן, וזהו (פסוק ל) ויברך אותו שם, שהיה מתחנן להמתין לו ולא רצה:

[12] See the writings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov Liqutim page 405.
כתבי הגרמ"מ משקלוב - ליקוטים - דף תה
קכג. ... כי לא נחש ביעקב ולא קסם בישראל [במדבר כג], כי יעקב איש תם [בראשית כה], וישראל ישר, אשר תם ויושר יצרוני [תהלים כה],

[13] See Targum Unkolus who translates Yeshurun as Yisrael.
אונקלוס דברים פרק לג פסוק ה
(ה) והוה בישראל מלכא באתכנשות רישי עמא כחדא שבטיא דישראל:
[14] See the Ramban’s commentary to Dvarim 2:10, and 7:12.
רמב"ן דברים פרק ב פסוק י
כי השמות ישמרו הטעם ויחליפו המלות, כמו זרח וצחר (בראשית מו י) מן וצמר צחר (יחזקאל כז יח), אתונות צחורות (שופטים ה י). וכן יעשו לשבח, יכנו יעקב שהוא לשון מרמה או לשון עקלקלות ויקראו אותו ישרון, מן תם וישר:
רמב"ן דברים פרק ז פסוק יב
טעם עקב - כמו בעבור,וכן על דעתי, כל לשון עקיבה גלגול וסבוב, עקוב הלב (ירמיה יז ט), ויעקבני זה פעמים (בראשית כז לו), ויהוא עשה בעקבה (מ"ב י יט), ענין גלגולין וסבות. ולכן יקראו יעקב "ישורון", כי היפך העקוב מישור. וכן אחורי הרגל שנקרא עקב, וידו אוחזת בעקב עשו (בראשית כה כו), יקראנו כן בעבור היותו מעוגל, כאשר יקרא הלשון אמצע היד והרגל "כפות" בעבור היותם כמו כפות הזהב. ומורגל הוא בלשון, כמו שאמרו בספרי (ברכה ב), מימינו אש דת למו (להלן לג ב), כשהיה יוצא הדבור מפי הקב"ה היה יוצא דרך ימינו של קדש לשמאלן של ישראל, ועוקב את מחנה ישראל שנים עשר מיל על שנים עשר מיל, כלומר מקיף. וכן לשונם (ב"ק קיג א) באים עליו בעקיפין, בסבות וגלגולין, כמו עקיבין, ששתי האותיות האלה שוות להן כאשר פרשתי כבר (ויקרא יט כ):

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Parshat Vayetze 5770 - The Place – HaMakom

Parshat Vayetze 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

The Place – HaMakom

Yaakov takes leave of his parents and begins his journey. As the sun sets he settles for the night, in a place not immediately identified by name:

בראשית פרק כח
וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה: וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם כִּי בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו וַיִּשְׁכַּב בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא:
And Yaakov went out from Beersheva, and went toward Haran. And he arrived at the place, and remained there all night, because the sun had set; and he took of the stones of the place, and put them beneath his head, and lay down in that place. Bereishit 28, 10-11

It is here that Yaakov has an epiphany. He sees a ladder reaching to heaven upon which angels are ascending and descending. When he awakes, Yaakov speaks about this place:

בראשית פרק כח, ט"ז-י"ז
 וַיִּיקַץ יַעֲקֹב מִשְּׁנָתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה’ בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי: וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם:  
And Yaakov awoke from his sleep, and he said, 'Surely God is in this place; and I did not know.' And he was afraid, and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is no other than the house of the Almighty, and this is the gate of heaven. Bereishit 28:16,17

Yaakov's vision is completely different than anything his father or grandfather saw. He senses God's presence in this place, as did Yitzchak and Avraham before him (see below), but he also senses the grandeur and majesty of the House of God. His vision is specific, detailed, and not the general awareness and understanding of God that his father and grandfather had. He comprehends that the point at which he stands is a gateway to heaven which spans the void between the physical terrain beneath his feet and the heavenly world, the spiritual and transcendent spheres beyond this world. Yaakov’s vision is almost unfathomable, for he describes spiritual structures which transcend the physical yet have a physical manifestation.

Only after considering the unique juxtaposition of physical and spiritual that this place embodies, we finally learn that the place does have a name – a name that is abandoned. Yaakov gives this place a new name that reflects his vision and the awesome presence that he sensed there:

בראשית פרק כח
 (יט) וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא בֵּית אֵל וְאוּלָם לוּז שֵׁם הָעִיר לָרִאשֹׁנָה:
And he called the name of that place Beit-El; but the name of the city was Luz at first. Bereishit 28:19

Yaakov's sojourn there on his way to Haran seems more than coincidental; the language of the verse may imply that he had set his sights on this spot, and managed to navigate accurately to reach it. Indeed, years later, when he returns from Haran to the land of his fathers, he visits this very particular place once again:

בראשית פרק לה, י"ג-ט"ו
וַיַּעַל מֵעָלָיו אֱלֹהִים בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ: וַיַּצֵּב יַעֲקֹב מַצֵּבָה בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ מַצֶּבֶת אָבֶן וַיַּסֵּךְ עָלֶיהָ נֶסֶךְ וַיִּצֹק עָלֶיהָ שָׁמֶן: וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב אֶת שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ שָׁם אֱלֹהִים בֵּית אֵל:
And God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.  And Yaakov set up a pillar in the place where he talked with Him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. And Yaakov called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Beit-El. Bereishit 35:13-15

While it should come as no surprise that tradition identifies this place with Jerusalem,[1] this is not a pat, easy answer to a geographical word game. The unique identity of this place, and its central role in our theology, deserve closer examination.

Before turning our attention to the significance of Yaakov's vision, it is important to note that Yaakov is not the first of our forefathers to be granted extraordinary spiritual experiences at this place, nor is he the first to bring offerings there. Although Avraham had built altars to God in various locations in the Land of Canaan, and despite the fact that Avraham had prayed to God, had even held conversations with God, in other locations, it was here that Avraham actually brought his very first offering:

בראשית פרק כב, ג-ד, ט, יד
וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת חֲמֹרוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו אִתּוֹ וְאֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיְבַקַּע עֲצֵי עֹלָה וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים: בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת הַמָּקוֹם מֵרָחֹק:
וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּבֶן שָׁם אַבְרָהָם אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַיַּעֲרֹךְ אֶת הָעֵצִים וַיַּעֲקֹד אֶת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתוֹ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ מִמַּעַל לָעֵצִים:... וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא ה’ יִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר הַיּוֹם בְּהַר ה’ יֵרָאֶה:
And Avraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Yitzchak his son, and broke the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place from afar...
And they came to the place which God had told him; and Avraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Yitzchak his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood...
And Avraham called the name of that place Adonai-Yireh; as it is said to this day, 'In the Mount of God He shall be seen'. Bereishit 22:3,4,9,14

Avraham and Yitzchak are brought, by Divine command, to this specific place, and it is here that Yitzchak is bound up for an offering, and eventually replaced by the ram that is sacrificed in his stead. Here, as in the two later visits by Yaakov, this place is called “the place”, above all others, different than all others. This is the place that will house the Beit HaMikdash, the physical manifestation of God's presence, the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds - perhaps the very House of God that Yaakov saw in prophetic vision.

The word makom which recurs over and over both in the Akeida scene and in our present parsha, appears earlier in the Torah. And while it is often no more than a general description of place, this same word is often used in an even more specific sense than in our present case, referring to God Himself:

ילקוט שמעוני תורה פרשת ויצא רמז קיז
'ויפגע במקום' למה מכנין שמו של הקב"ה וקורין אותו מקום מפני שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין העולם מקומו
“And he arrived at the place:” Why is God called Makom? Because He is the place of the world and the world is not His place. Yalqut Shimoni Vayetze remez 117

Let us look back to the very beginning in order to fully understand this far-reaching philosophical usage: The first time the word makom is used in the Torah, God gathers all the primordial waters to one place and thus reveals the earth below. This gathering of water is called mikve:[2]

בראשית פרק א, ט
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל מָקוֹם אֶחָד וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה וַיְהִי כֵן:
And God said, 'Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear;' and it was so. Bereishit 1, 9

The act of gathering the waters which results in dry land being revealed is called mikve, while the place into which the waters are gathered is called makom. We know in our own experience that this gathering of water, the mikve, is a place of purity, where people can return to themselves – in the pure, pristine sense of regeneration; it is a place where a person can return to God.  In a very real sense, the mikve reconnects us with the very essence of our being, to the foundations of human identity: The Torah describes the creation of man as a hybrid of the spiritual and the physical – a coming together of two worlds:

בראשית פרק ב, ז
וַיִּיצֶר ה’ אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה:
And the Almighty God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Bereishit 2, 7

Man is formed out of the dust of the earth, and this very physical stuff is infused with spirituality. And yet, Rashi explains, even the physical matter of which man is formed is not devoid of spirituality. Rashi offers two possibilities for the provenance of this "dust of the earth". According to the first, God gathered dust from all over the Earth, forming man from the entirety of the Earth. According to the second interpretation, very specific earth is used to form man – earth gathered from "THE PLACE" – from this very specific makom to which Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were drawn.[3] The Targum (pseudo)- Yonatan states clearly that the dust was gathered from the place where the Beit Hamikdash would stand.[4] In other words, the hybrid creature called man is made of physical stuff  - dust of the earth- and a breath of God – the spiritual "image of God" with which we are uniquely gifted, but even the physical part of man originates from the holiest place.

What does this mean for each of us? When we return to Jerusalem, we return home in a very basic, elemental sense. The very stones of the Temple Mount are of one piece with our bodies. We are part and parcel of the Holy Altar, and that holiest of places is intertwined with our very essence. Holiness and purity are not extraneous, external, foreign concepts; they are who we are. We are, in the most basic sense, hardwired for holiness, and it is to this state of purity that we strive to return – to our purest selves. It is to this inner, innate purity that the elemental waters of the mikve return us.

Conversely, the ultimate punishment for transgressing against our innate purity, for turning our backs on the image of God within us, is exile. From the very start, sin distanced us from our life-source, from the wellspring of our spirituality and vitality. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were exiled. So, too, Cain. In light of what we have learned, exile can now be understood on several levels: Exile is more than replacing the familiar with the unknown, more than a disconnection from the physical environment of one's home. Exile is, above all, a disconnection from the source of our spiritual identity. Exile is distancing of the body as well as the soul from the makom of purity; in a certain sense, exile is a sort of quasi-death. Man’s physical place is intertwined with his spiritual existence in ways that are often too subtle to discern. The Maharal[5] expressed this idea by pointing out that the word makom is related etymologically to mekayem, something that sustains and provides existence:  When a person is exiled they lose more than their physical frame of reference. They are denied a part of their very existence. This explains why a person found guilty of negligent or unintentional homicide is forced into exile: In a world of absolute justice, a murderer forfeits his own life. In a case where absolute justice is impossible, a sort of quasi-death is imposed, and the murderer is disconnected from his natural place, from the source of his identity. A person who has taken the life of another is cleansed by the quasi-death experience of exile. Interestingly, this exile comes to an end with the death of the Kohen Gadol:[6] The connection between the Kohen Gadol, custodian of the Beit Hamikdash, and the end of this person's wandering, presents additional confirmation of the relationship between the Makom HaMikdash and the spiritual source of life.

The destruction of the Beit HaMikdash was not only the destruction of the symbol of national sovereignty, it was also the dismantling of the bridge that had connected our physical plane with the spiritual realm beyond. The exile that followed in the wake of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash was, above and beyond the physical dispersion of the Jewish People, a spiritual disconnection from our place of identity and our purest selves.

Careful consideration should be given to the theological ramifications of Yaakov's vision and to the question of "sacred ground". In this very basic yet profound teaching, we may discern the point of divergence between Judaism and pantheism: While Judaism sees Godliness in every element of Creation, pantheism turned every force of nature into a god. In other words, we may say that Judaism is not completely summarized by the concept 'monotheism'; Judaism describes God as not only unique and singular, but also transcendent. Thus, according to Jewish theology, God does not exist within the physical world, and no place can confine God.[7] On the other hand, Judaism teaches that while the physical world cannot contain God, and is not itself god, the physical world can be imbued with holiness which emanates from God. Although God is not limited to space, in certain spaces mankind can be more attuned to Godliness. This is the nature of the holiness of the Beit Hamikdash: it is not intrinsic, it emanates from God. Before the Temple was built, Yaakov felt God's holiness emanating from the Makom HaMikdash, described by the ladder in his vision. He called the place Beit El, for he envisioned the House of God that would one day give all of his descendants access to God's holiness. Although Yaakov was just beginning his journey and would return to that place only after many painful years in exile, the vision of that place, the knowledge of that connection to the transcendent, the assurance that the Beit HaMikdash would one day be built there, sustained Yaakov throughout his exile, as it sustained his descendants generations later.

God's identity is absolute, yet holiness is often subject to human perception: The method by which God makes Himself manifest in the physical world can be perceived by different people in many different ways. The Talmud relates that one of the most vivid descriptions of the Divine, which was recorded by the prophet Yehezkel, was a subjective vision, limited by the prophet's relatively low prophetic abilities. The far more subdued vision recorded by the prophet Yeshayahu was, in fact, the identical vision, seen through a different human prism:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת חגיגה דף יג עמוד ב
אמר רבא: כל שראה יחזקאל ראה ישעיה. למה יחזקאל דומה - לבן כפר שראה את המלך, ולמה ישעיה דומה - לבן כרך שראה את המלך.
Rava said: All that Yehezkel saw, Yeshayahu saw. What does Yehezkel resemble? A villager who saw the king. And what does Yeshayahu resemble? A townsman who saw the king. Talmud Bavli Chagiga 13b

Yeshayahu describes God’s holiness which fills the world:

ישעיהו פרק ו, א0ג
בִּשְׁנַת מוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ עֻזִּיָּהוּ וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת אֲדֹנָי יֹשֵׁב עַל כִּסֵּא רָם וְנִשָּׂא וְשׁוּלָיו מְלֵאִים אֶת הַהֵיכָל: שְׂרָפִים עֹמְדִים מִמַּעַל לוֹ שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם לְאֶחָד בִּשְׁתַּיִם יְכַסֶּה פָנָיו וּבִשְׁתַּיִם יְכַסֶּה רַגְלָיו וּבִשְׁתַּיִם יְעוֹפֵף: וְקָרָא זֶה אֶל זֶה וְאָמַר קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה’ צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ:
In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw God sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the Sanctuary. Above it stood the Seraphim; each one had six wings; with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they did fly. And one cried to another, and said, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His Glory.' Yeshayahu 6, 1-3

Yechezkel's vision seems quite different:

יחזקאל פרק ג, י-יב
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָי בֶּן אָדָם אֶת כָּל דְּבָרַי אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ קַח בִּלְבָבְךָ וּבְאָזְנֶיךָ שְׁמָע: וְלֵךְ בֹּא אֶל הַגּוֹלָה אֶל בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי ה’ אִם יִשְׁמְעוּ וְאִם יֶחְדָּלוּ: וַתִּשָּׂאֵנִי רוּחַ וָאֶשְׁמַע אַחֲרַי קוֹל רַעַשׁ גָּדוֹל בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד ה’ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ:
And he said to me, 'Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go, get you to the exile, to your people, and speak to them, and tell them, "Thus said the Almighty God"; whether they will hear, or whether they will refuse to hear. 12. Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great sound, saying, 'Blessed be the Glory of God from His place. Yechezkel 3:10-12

While Yeshayahu perceives holiness emanating from God and filling all of Creation, Yechezkel perceives holiness radiating from a specific point, "the place", the makom. Yeshayahu prophesized in Jerusalem, while the Beit HaMikdash yet stood, and he had a very clear vision of how the Glory of God fills all of Creation. Yechezkel prophesized from the exile, as the Temple lay in ruins, and he sensed that the source of blessing, the point from which God's Glory emanates, is that specific place, the makom HaMikdash. It seems elementary to our Talmudic sages that the perception of God's manifestation in the physical world will be affected by the different vantage points of each prophet: The vision from exile, seen by a wandering Jew who has been disconnected from his makom, will necessarily differ from a vision seen at the epicenter of holiness.

Like Yechezkel, Yaakov calls this place makom, yet he renames it Beit El – the “House of God”. He sees the angels going up and going down; he understands that this is the gate to heaven, that holiness emanates from this place to the rest of the world. He stands with his feet on the ground of the holiest place on Earth, as did Yeshayahu,  yet Yaakov is on his way into exile – like Yechezkel.[8]

Years later, before Yaakov leaves the Land of Israel for a second time, he seems more reluctant. He is less able to focus on the vision of the future, less willing to exile himself from the place where God's Presence is manifest. And God Himself gives Yaakov assurances:

בראשית פרק מו, א-ד
וַיִּסַּע יִשְׂרָאֵל וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ וַיָּבֹא בְּאֵרָה שָּׁבַע וַיִּזְבַּח זְבָחִים לֵאלֹהֵי אָבִיו יִצְחָק: וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמַרְאֹת הַלַּיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב יַעֲקֹב וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי: וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי הָאֵל אֱלֹהֵי אָבִיךָ אַל תִּירָא מֵרְדָה מִצְרַיְמָה כִּי לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם: אָנֹכִי אֵרֵד עִמְּךָ מִצְרַיְמָה וְאָנֹכִי אַעַלְךָ גַם עָלֹה וְיוֹסֵף יָשִׁית יָדוֹ עַל עֵינֶיךָ:
And Yisrael traveled with all that he had, and came to Beersheva, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Yitzchak. And God spoke to Yisrael in the visions of the night, and said, 'Yaakov, Yaakov'. And he said, 'Here am I.' And he said, 'I am the Almighty, the God of your father; fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation; I will go down with you to Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again; and Yosef shall put his hand upon your eyes. Bereishit 46:1-4

Once again, Yaakov is forced to leave the Land; once again, he is granted a vision which will comfort and sustain him, but now an important element is added. God says, “I will go down with you.” The Shechina, the Glory of God, will be discernable beyond the borders of Israel, beyond the confines of the Beit HaMikdash, beyond the boundaries of that very specific makom.[9] God informs Yaakov that He will always be with Yaakov and his descendents – even in Egypt, in the epicenter of darkness and evil. God Himself becomes HaMakom; the Shechina which accompanies Yisrael into exile is the manifestation of that same connection, previously confined to the one awesome space revealed to the forefathers.

In a certain sense, we may think that God's promise to Yaakov was superfluous: God transcends time and space. There is no place devoid of His holiness, and God is not confined to any one place. As Yeshayahu taught, "the entire world is filled with His Glory." And yet, we are not able to be fully attuned to God's Presence at all times, in all of the places we find ourselves. At times we feel alone, ungrounded, restless; we don’t feel the Shechina upon us, and we don’t see the ladder. It is not always easy to access the spirituality which transcends the confines of our physical space. For this reason, Yaakov hesitated, and God assured him: “I am with you. I will be with you in exile, and I will return to with you from exile."

The words of comfort and reassurance God offers Yaakov/Yisrael remind us of the words we ourselves use to comfort mourners:

'הַמָּקוֹם יְנַחֵם אֶתְכֶם בְּתוֹךְ שאר אֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם'.
May the “Place” (HaMakom) give you solace along with all those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.

Here, God Himself is the Makom; when we feel distant, bereft, disconnected from our life-source, in need of comfort, it is specifically the aspect of God as related to makom that comforts us. Moreover, we are consoled by connecting our own personal loss to the comfort that comes from Jerusalem, from that very specific makom that is the source of our true identity. Our lives are bound up with the Altar in Jerusalem, with the dust of  the earth of the Temple Mount. Every death, then, is a destruction of the Altar and the Temple. When we feel distant, when we feel alienated and exiled, when death strikes and we feel alone, God, The Place, the Makom and the Mekayam - the source and sustainer of all existence, lifts us up by revealing to us, once again, that unique bridge that spans the void and acts as a conduit between our physical and spiritual selves. Like Yeshayahu, Yechezkel, and Yaakov before them, He allows us to see that truly His Glory fills all existence.

[1] According to tradition this is where Yitzchak prays as well. See Akaidat Yitzchak chapter 24 where the idea is expressed succinctly.
ספר עקידת יצחק - שער כד
וזש"א אברהם "בהר ד' יראה", וביצחק נאמר "לשוח בשדה" וביעקב "אין זה כי אם בית אלקים", אף כי באמת מקום העקידה, ותפלת יצחק, ומשכב יעקב שלשתם היו לדחז"ל במקום אחד בהר המוריה אשר שם נבנה בהמ"ק:
[2] Interestingly, Targum Unkulus translates mikve as beit kinishta – which would mean beit kenneset ( or in Latin, synagogue) – a place where people gather for a holy purpose.
אונקלוס בראשית פרק א פסוק י
(י) וקרא יי ליבשתא ארעא ולבית כנישת מיא קרא יממי וחזא יי ארי טב:

[3] Rashi,  Bereishit 2:7
רש"י בראשית פרק ב פסוק ז
עפר מן האדמה - צבר עפרו מכל האדמה מארבע רוחות, שכל מקום שימות שם תהא קולטתו לקבורה. דבר אחר נטל עפרו ממקום שנאמר בו (שמות כ כא) מזבח אדמה תעשה לי, אמר הלואי תהיה לו כפרה ויוכל לעמוד:

[4] Targum Yonatan, Bereishit 2:7
כתר יונתן בראשית פרק ב פסוק ז
(ז) ויברא יי אלהים את אדם בשני יצרים ויקח עפר ממקום בית המקדש ומארבעת רוחות העולם ויבלול מכל מימי העולם ובראו אדום שחור ולבן ויפח בנחיריו נשמת חיים והיתה נשמה בגוף האדם לרוח מדברת למאור עינים ולשמע אוזנים:

[5] See comments of the Maharal Chidushei Aggadot Sanhedrin page 147,
ספר חדושי אגדות חלק שלישי עמוד קמז - מסכת סנהדרין
הדברים יש להם קיום במקום כמו (שאומרים) [שאמרו] (אבות פ"ד) אין לך דבר שאין לו מקום והמקום נותן קיום לדבר שהוא במקום, ודבר זה יתבאר בסמוך. ולכך נקרא מקום שהוא מקיים הדבר שעומד בו. וכאשר גולה ממקומו וכאלו בטל קיומו, וכמו שהמיתה מכפרת על האדם כך הגלות שהוא בטול דבר שהוא קיומו מכפר
[6] Bamidbar 35:25
[7] See the comments of the Maharsha Brachot 40a
מהרש"א חידושי אגדות מסכת ברכות דף מ עמוד א
משמוע דלעולם הוא מחזיק לשמוע בריקן דוקא כי הדברים בטלים הם דברים גשמיים יש להם גדר במקום שמקום הריק מגשמי מחזיק והמלא מדבר גשמי א"א להחזיק עוד יותר וזו היא מדת ב"ו אבל מדת הקב"ה שאין לו גדר במקום כי מלא כל הארץ כבודו כי הוא מקומו של עולם ואין העולם מקומו וע"כ מקום מלא מרוחני אין לו למקומו גדר ויוכל להחזיק עוד יותר להוסיף דבר רוחני אבל הריק מהרוחני אינו מחזיק דבר רוחני ולזה בשמיעת המושכלות שהם דברים רוחנים המלא מהם אין לו גדר במקום ומחזיק עוד יותר דהיינו אם שמוע תשמע ואם לאו הרי רוצה בריקן מהרוחני
ואינו מחזיק עוד רוחני ודו"ק:

[8] This idea is described by Rav Yitzchak Isaac Chaver in his Drasha for Bereishit section 103.
ספר שיח יצחק חלק א - דרוש לשבת פרשת בראשית (המשך)
קג) והוא מה שראה יעקב אבינו במראה הסולם "והנה סולם מוצב ארצה", רמז כל מ"ש, שהוא קו התפשטות גילוי כבוד מלכותו יתברך וממשלתו והמציאו והשגחתו על נבראיו, שנבראו בסדר השתלשלות המדרגות, זה תחת זה, מראשית המשכתו, שהוא מכסא כבודו יתברך, עד מקום המקדש, מקום השראת שכינתו יתברך, אשר שם שכב יעקב אבינו, כמ"ש "ויפגע במקום", והוא מקומו של עולם, וגם מקום הנבחר בהר המוריה, ששם רגלי הסולם, סוף התפשטות הקו הזה, וז"ש "מוצב ארצה וראשו מגיע וכו'", אבל מלאכי אלוהים הם האמצעים, ועלייתם וירידתם בו, ר"ל ע"י יעקב, שהוא כלל האומה הנבחרת לעבודתו יתברך, וכתיב "והנה ה' נצב עליו", ר"ל על הסולם, וכן ר"ל על יעקב, והכל ענין אחד, כי צורת נשמתו מגיע עד ראש הסולם, שהוא התחלת המשכת הקו, ששמו הגדול יתברך הוא עליו וסמוך לו:

[9] See Mechilta B'shalach, Shira parsha gimmel, Talmud Bavli Megila 29a
מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל בשלח - מס' דשירה פרשה ג ד"ה זה אלי
כך ישראל כשירדו למצרים ירדה שכינה עמהם שנ' אנכי ארד עמך מצרימה (ברא' מו ד), עלו עלת שכינה עמהם שנ' ואנכי אעלך גם עלה וגו' (שם /בראשית מו ד/),
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף כט עמוד א
תניא, רבי שמעון בן יוחאי אומר: בוא וראה כמה חביבין ישראל לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא. שבכל מקום שגלו - שכינה עמהן.