Fragile Family: Yaakov’s Dream of National Unity

As we see in Vayetzei, this week’s Torah portion, the sun is setting and Yaakov rests his head after a harrowing day. He is fleeing from his brother Esav who is hell bent on killing him after Yaakov stole his blessing. In an open field Yaakov gathers stones and makes a pillow of sorts so he can sleep before continuing to his escape in the morning. There we read:

He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. (Genesis 28:11)

There is a discrepancy between the “stones” here and what we see later. There we read:

Early in the morning, Yaakov took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. ( Genesis 28:18)

After the dream there is only one stone. What happened?

Amazingly, the Midrash describes a “fight” that breaks out between the stones Yaakov has gathered. Drawing from this Midrash to comment on this passage Rashi says:

AND PUT THEM FOR A RESTING PLACE FOR HIS HEAD — He arranged them in the form of a drain-pipe around his head for he was afraid of wild beasts (Genesis Rabbah 68:11). They (the stones) began quarrelling with one another. One said, “Upon me let this righteous man rest his head”, and another said “Upon me let him rest it”. Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be God, straightway made them into one stone! This explains what is written (Genesis 28:18), “And he took the stone that he had put under his head” (Chullin 91b). ( Rashi on Genesis 18:11)

What do we make of this fanciful story at this moment in Yaakov’s life?

I was thinking about this image of Yaakov’s pillow recently when I learned a great midrash about the nature of the family unit. There we learn:

A society and a family are like a pile of stones. If you remove one stone, the pile will collapse. If you add a stone to it, it will stand. (Bereishit Rabbah 100:7)

This speaks to the fragility of Yitzhak and Rebecca’s family at this time. This rings true for Yaakov at this moment in his life. Just as Yaakov is removing himself from his family the pile of rocks might topple. But that is not what happens to him. Instead of his family falling apart be departs to start his new family.

In many way this is a fulfillment of the destiny of humanity as we learn in the Garden of Eden. There we read:

Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh. ( Genesis 2:24)

This moment of his leaving his father and mother the rocks are falling apart, instead he finds a wife ( or two) and they have 13 children. These children will become the nation of Israel. In this critical moment of his dream Yaakov transforms a fragile family into a unified nation. This image of us as a nation being one unified rock is at one challenging and challenged. Maybe it is just a dream.

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