A View of a Place

Nov 30th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week, Prayer
The second I enter the room that was, originally, my grandfather zt”l’s, and then my father zt”l’s, study, I am overwhelmed. It is not the number of Sefarim that daunts me, but the level of learning and achievement that took place in that room. It is a magical room; powerful, and holy. It makes perfect sense that both their places at the front of the Beit Midrash remain with empty chairs. The place where they prayed and studied are different because of what they accomplished.

What did Jacob feel when he climbed to the peak of Moriah, the place where both Abraham and Isaac achieved their greatest heights with the Binding of Isaac? His grandfather and father visited with their arms full of fire and wood, prepared to make the most awesome offering to God. Jacob arrived with empty arms.

Moriah represented the peak of achievement for the first two patriarchs. For Jacob, it was an inadvertent stop on the way as he ran for his life from Esau, heading toward the home of the wicked Laban.

Did Jacob intend to charge his spiritual batteries at the holy place, drawing energy from the place and from his father and grandfather? Or, did Jacob arrive with a sense of inadequacy and weakness?

The portion stresses the significance of place. “Vayifga baMakom,” “and he met the place,” or, as the Sages teach, “When a righteous person leaves a place, it has an effect.” What was this place to Jacob at that juncture of his life? If the presence of a righteous person makes a mark; how did Jacob’s visit change Moriah?

Whatever was on Jacob’s mind as he went to sleep surely affected the nature of his dream. Even a prophetic dream is specifically designed for the prophet as, and where, he is. The dream of the Stairway to Heaven must be interpreted as a reflection of Jacob’s reaction to the place, the place itself with its history, and how the place was affected by Jacob’s presence.

“He encountered the place (Genesis 28:11),” indicates engagement, an engagement so powerful that the Sages determine that Jacob prayed in the place. Jacob arrived ready to encounter the greatness that had been achieved at this place. He still thought of this as the place where Abraham and Isaac had accomplished great heights, but he was still to learn, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of the Lord and this is the gate of the heavens (Verse 17).” The place itself was powerful and holy. It was not because of what his father and grandfather had achieved, but because of its nature.

Since Adam was exiled from the Garden, we have been told about people, not places. Noah’s Ark was a place constructed by a righteous person. The Tower of Babel is a tale of people not a place. Jacob’s experience was of a place. He, the third patriarch, the great balancer, would learn the importance of the interaction between person and place, a necessary step to prepare the nation to settle in the Land of Canaan.

The Stairway in Jacob’s dream, the connection between Heaven and earth, is the connection between people and place; that a person can connect one place to another, earth to heaven, and that certain places are the key to allow the connection.

This is why we are urged to pray in a Makom Kavu’a, a set place; we can approach our prayers as Jacob learned to pray, as taking advantage of a holy place to fulfill our mission of connecting heaven and earth.

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