I asked my daughter what I should talk about this week, and she said to talk about the rocks that Yaakov slept on that turned into a single rock. We all know the story:
So what is the message of this aggadah?
The importance of אחדות.
So why do we need to start with separate rocks that come together?
The importance of מחלוקת.
And thus are all my years of בית יעקב tuition justified.
The פשט of ויקח מאבני המקום seems to be that he took a single rock:
And thus there is no need for the midrashic transformation of multiple rocks into one. But Erel Segal-Halevi points out that the text actually indicates multiple rocks: the תנ״ך idiom for a single rock would be אבן מאבני המקום.
So Shadal would say that ויקח מאבני המקום means multiple rocks (and he translates וישם מראשתיו as “put them in the area around his head”), but ויקח את האבן means the one stone that he actually slept on:
But the very fact that the Torah spends so much time talking about this rock begs for a midrashic interpretation. Rashi’s source is the gemara:
But we all (including my daughter) know the story as “12 stones that became one”, symbolizing the אחדות of כנסת ישראל. The gemara says nothing of that, and in fact, the Ramchal gives a very different interpretation of this aggadah:
The 12 stones comes from בראשית רבה:
A father having 12 sons is a common trope in ספר בראשית:
Twelve tribes in תנ״ך is symbolic of the start of a new nation; the transition from individuals to a community. The פרקי דרבי אליעזר goes even further:
These midrashim change the tenor of the story entirely. Yaakov is asking for a sign that he has not been rejected. Avraham had a mission לקרא בשם ה׳. Only Yitzchak inherited that mission; (בראשית כה:ו) ולבני הפילגשים…וישלחם…קדמה אל ארץ קדם. At some point the process of selecting only one child must end and building a nation must begin; that is what having 12 tribes coming together means. But Yaakov had apparently been rejected: (בראשית כט:א) וישא יעקב רגליו; וילך ארצה בני קדם. So in בראשית רבה he is asking for a sign that he will found a nation, that he will have some destiny, and in פרקי דרבי אליעזר he is asking that the nation he founds will be connected back to the עקידה and the mission of Avraham and Yitzchak. That’s what this rock symbolizes, and why it is so important for the future: והאבן הזאת אשר שמתי מצבה יהיה בית אלקים.
And the only way to have a בית אלקים is to have this synthesis of multiple tribes, an אחדות that is not imposed from above, but an אחדות that comes from and still values מחלוקת לשם שמים.
If we can achieve that kind of אחדות, then we can build a בית אלקים that will be a beacon for the entire world, a בית תפילה לכל העמים: