Vayetsei 5777


וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש ה’ במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי… וישכם יעקב בבקר ויקח את האבן (בראשית כח:טז-יח)

And Yaakov awoke from his sleep and he said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did
not know!”… And Yaakov woke up in the morning, and he took the stone (Bereishis 28:16-18)


Yaakov Avinu specifically came to this place, Har HaMoriah, where his father and grandfather had been. He knew it was the place of the Akeidah. According to some commentaries, he even envisioned the Beis HaMikdash. Clearly, he knew it was a holy place. Why was he in awe? Furthermore, what does it mean that he didn’t know Hashem was here? Yaakov knew very well that Hashem is everywhere!

Lastly, Pasuk 16 saysויקץ , “and he awoke.” Two Pesukim later, Pasuk 18 says וישכם, also indicating that Yaakov woke up. What are these two awakenings? Did Yaakov fall back asleep after Hashem’s revelation? These Pesukim beg explanation.

Parshas Toldos relates that Yitzchak, who was a pure עולה תמימה, “unblemished sacrifice” (Rashi on Bereishis 26:2), and never left Eretz Yisrael, favored Eisav over Yaakov. Yaakov seemed much more similar to his father, being an איש תם יושב אוהלים (בראשית כה:כז), “a man without faults, living in tents” (Bereishis 25:27). Yet Yitzchak was not drawn to Yaakov. This was because Yitzchak understood that Avodas Hashem requires not only pursuit of the spiritual world, but the elevation of the physical world as well. It is not for naught that the Neshama comes down to a physical body to live in a physical world. Hashem wants us to take the physicality of this world and raise it to higher, spiritual levels.

Who better to tackle this than Eisav, theאיש שדה (בראשית כה:כז), the man of the physical world? With some guidance, thought Yitzchak, Eisav would be able to take the world he knew so well and elevate it spiritually. Yitzchak’s intent is clear in the Bracha that he planned to give to Eisav, which he actually gave to Yaakov:ויתן לך האלוקים מטל השמים ומשמני הארץ ורב דגן ותירש (בראשית כז:כח), “May Hashem give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine (Bereishis 27:28). The entire Bracha was centered on the physical world. Rivkah obviously understood that it behooved Yaakov to receive that particular Bracha. So at the end of the episode in Parshas Toldos, Yaakov remained theאיש תם יושב אוהלים, but now he was also charged with the mission of bringing his father’s Brachos to fruition: to elevate the physical world and raise it to some higher spiritual level.

At the onset of Parshas Yayetzei, Yaakov is on his way to Lavan when Hashem appears to him with the dream of the ladder. The Torah describes the bottom of the ladder on earth, and its top reaching the heavens. The Daas Zekeinim writes that Yaakov recognized that the heavens and earth are part of one entity, like a house and its attic. The ladder was teaching Yaakov the idea he needed to learn as he was entering the physical world of Lavan. This explains Yaakov’s bewilderment. He was amazed at the revelation that heaven and earth coexist. He always knew that Hashem was at the top of the ladder. Now he saw that the same Hashem is here on earth, directly connected to heaven. He was now ready to embrace the physical and elevate it.

But this was all just a dream. It is easy to dream, or even to hear a lesson. Often, people hear something inspiring, but after a short while the message is lost. Yaakov did not let this happen. The second “waking up” was not because he fell back asleep. It is an indication of rising up to take action, as the Pasuk continues, “He took the stone.” He did something. In this way, the message will not be lost. In many other places where the Torah uses the word וישכם, it is followed by an action.

The Midrash shares a similar lesson. Hashem showed Yaakov the four nations of Bavel, Madai, Yavan, and Edom all rising up the ladder and then falling. Hashem then asked Yaakov why he doesn’t climb the ladder as well. After all, isn’t this the ladder to Shamayim?

Yaakov responds that he is scared of falling off like all the others.

Hashem guarantees him that if he comes up, he will never fall.

But Yaakov refuses.

Hashem says: If you would have climbed the ladder, you would have never fallen. Now that you didn’t believe in Me, your children will become subjects of these four nations.

Yaakov asks Hashem if this servitude will be forever.

To which Hashem responds no. One day, He will bring the other nations down, and only Yaakov’s children will remain.

We may not comprehend Yaakov Avinu’s lack of trust in Hashem, but clearly Hashem wants us climbing the ladder. We cannot reach Shamayim if we are too scared to get on the ladder. We need to act. And if we climb, we will one day merit the end of the Midrash.


Rabbi Shlomo Nussbaum

ויאמר אכן יש ה’ במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי (בראשית כח:טז)

And he said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know!” (Bereishis 28:16)


The Rambam (Beis Habechira 7,7) Paskens that the Mitzvah of Morah Mikdash – reverence for the Beis HaMikdash – applies to the location of  the Beis HaMikdash, even in times when the actual structure is not standing. This Mitzvah encompasses such prohibited activities as sitting down, entering with one’s walking stick, or entering with dusty feet. The Rambam bases this Halacha on the Braisa discussed in the Gemara (Yevamos 6b). Referring to the juxtaposition of the Mitzvos of Shmiras Shabbos and Morah Mikdash, the Braisa derives, “Just as Shmiras Shabbos is forever, so, too, is Morah Mikdash forever.”

Numerous Seforim quote the Brisker Rav (as recounted by his Talmidim) as having interpreted Yaakov’s exclamation, based on this Rambam, as follows:

The reason for the Issur continuing, even in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, can be understood from the Braisa quoted earlier in the same Gemara. Commenting on the juxtaposition, the Braisa says, “Just as regarding the observance of Shabbos, it is not Shabbos that you must revere but He that ordered regarding Shabbos that you must revere, so, too, regarding Morah Mikdash, it is not the Mikdash that you must revere but He who ordered regarding the Mikdash.” Therefore, the Issurim are not limited to times when the physical structure of the Beis HaMikdash is standing, as long as Hashem’s Shechina is present.

When Yaakov awoke from his prophetic dream, he realized that even in his time, hundreds of years before the Beis HaMikdash was constructed, Hashem’s presence already rested on that spot. Rashi’s comment on the Pasuk supplements, “For had I known, I would not have slept in such a holy place!”

The Brisker Rav interprets Yaakov’s exclamation as referring to the actual Issur of Morah Mikdash, as the aforementioned Rambam had said. What Yaakov was actually saying was, “Now that I see that Hashem’s presence is here even at this time, I should not have lain down here, Halachically.”

The Brisker Rav concluded that this incident demonstrates the supremacy of Halacha. Had Yaakov not slept there, he never would have received the invaluable prophecy and divine guarantee for deliverance. Still, Yaakov’s immediate reaction was regret that he had transgressed the Halacha in doing so.

Interestingly, this idea seems to conflict with the words of the Brisker Rav’s great grandfather, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, in Nefesh HaChaim (sh. 4, ch 21-22). Rav Chaim expounds upon a fundamental difference between the manner in which the Avos fulfilled the Torah, based on their own intellectual realization, and our obligation to heed the Mitzvos. The former, he explains, were permitted to “bend” the rules a bit when they realized that this was justified by the immense spiritual value thereby accrued. This explains Yaakov’s marriage to two sisters and Amram’s marriage to his aunt, Yocheved. He even goes so far as to assert that one of the reasons that the Torah was not given at that time was precisely to allow for these “infractions” to occur! After Matan Torah, however, this all changed. Klal Yisrael is now bound to follow the Torah fully, regardless of the seeming merit they may perceive in disobeying.

Yaakov’s breach of Moreh Mikdash seems to be just such a case. Would not the great spiritual gains for Klal Yisrael justify Yaakov’s irreverence? Why did this call for such remorse?

A possible explanation might be that in this instance, both sides of the conflict, i.e., the Mitzvah of Morah Mikdash and the connection merited through the prophecy, are facets of the same spiritual concept – the holiness of the Makom HaMikdash. Yaakov know that even from a perspective of pre-Matan Torah, where he has license to compromise for greater spiritual gains, the best way to achieve connection through this holy venue would be by way of the Halacha prescribed for it. By this logic, the infraction was unjustified.