The Foundation Stone

“And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

– Genesis 28:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The word lighted, “and he lighted upon the place,” in Hebrew is vayifgah, from the shoresh (root word), paga. According to chazal, the word implies prayer; hence, the origin of the evening prayer being attributed to Jacob. Therefore, this event in Jacob’s life was the precedent for prayer, the third prayer of the day, that marks the transition from day to night.

What significance does this particular prayer serve? Within the context of the evening shema, the prayer draws emphasis to G-d’s faithfulness to Israel; we remind ourselves of His faithfulness to us, because darkness signifies the exile; yet, He is with us, as He was in the past: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

The stones that Jacob placed around his head, twelve stones, are said in the midrash to have been taken from the mizbeach (altar) made by Abraham. The next morning, Jacob “took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar” (Genesis 28:18). In other words, of the twelve stones that he originally placed under his head he took the stone, one specific stone. Although, according to the midrash, symbolically, the twelve stones became one, representing the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, this stone was given the name evehn shetiyah (the foundation stone), many generations later. This stone symbolizes the center of the world, from where all the earth was created. Jacob poured oil on this stone, so that it could be used as a mizbeach (altar), later, when he would return from his journey to Haran. This location is where the first and second Temples stood, many generations after Jacob. It is also where the third Temple will be built in Jerusalem.

As mentioned above, the maariv (evening) prayer, recited after nightfall, is a reminder of H’Shem’s faithfulness to us, during this Galus, i.e., the current exile. With our hope focused on the time of the Final Redemption, we may look forward to the time when K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel) will be united. “And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts. He shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace upon it.’” – Zechariah 4:6-7

dvar: parashas Re’eh 5781

“Unto the place which the L-RD your G-d shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek.”

– Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe explains to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) that they should not do like the nations in regard to their service to H’Shem. The idolatrous nations worshipped anywhere and everywhere to various so-called deities. However, when entering Eretz Canaan, B’nei Yisrael would be called upon to “destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree” (Deuteronomy 12:2, JPS). Rather, Israel is called to worship in “the place which H’Shem your G-d shall choose” (Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS).

The place that H’Shem chose, eventually was Jerusalem. That is where the first and second Temples were built. Moreover, we await the building of the Third temple. Until then, we congregate in assemblies, that are referred to as “small sanctuaries,” as per one interpretation of the following pasuk (verse): “Thus saith the L-rd G-D: Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come” (Ezekiel 11:16, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The original meaning of the verse was meant to convey a sense of reassurance to the exiles, after the first Temple was destroyed, that H’Shem’s presence would still be with them; i.e., that H’Shem would be a sanctuary – a place of refuge for them. This rendering is also apropos today, during the current galus (exile), inasmuch that we believe that His presence, otherwise known as the Shechinah, went into exile with us after the destruction of the second Temple. Although, the return of the Jewish people has already begun at the time of the recreation of the State of Israel, our exile is not officially, over until the third Temple is built in the time of Moshiach (Messiah).