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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei | 5767
Where Is the Place and Where Is the LadderHaRav Yosef Carmel
In Yaakov’s dream, with which our parasha begins, a ladder extended from the ground to the sky upon which angels were ascending and descending. The angels were agents of Hashem, Who is also referred to as the Makom, literally, the place. How can people, whose legs are on the ground but do not reach the heavens, become agents of the Makom? How will the members of our nation reach the place of Beit El, where Yaakov saw that lofty dream?
One of the prominent places we refer to Hashem as the Makom is in the prayer for Jews in despair or captivity. This in turn is probably connected to the gemara (Shabbat 12b), which states: “One who enters to visit the sick … R. Yehuda says: ‘The Makom shall have mercy on you and on the sick of
During the episode of the dream, the word makom appears no fewer than five times. It refers to the very special location where Yaakov slept, dreamed, and became aware that he was in a holy place. The place’s sanctity was unlike holy places in future generations, as they needed to be consecrated by human processes to establish their status. Rather, Yaakov’s place was holy because it was the site of a special Divine Presence (shechina). Thus, makom and Hashem are connected.
Not only in such locations does the shechina dwell. The midrash tells us that Hashem came to visit Avraham as he recovered from circumcision. Similarly, the gemara points out that the shechina is present at the bedside of the ill, above the ill one’s head. The visitor is even supposed to choose his place and manner of sitting due to this realization. In fact, Hashem is even described as feeding the sick at that time.
How are we to cause the shechina to appear in our places? The answer may be found at the end of the story of the dream. Yaakov vowed that if he would return home in peace after his sojourn he would tithe all of the bounty he received (Bereishit 28: 20-22). This vow is the basis for the established practice of fine Jews to give 10% of their incomes to charity. We do not give the funds to Hashem and the money does not become holy but it is dispersed among Hashem’s creations. In that way, though, we are following in our Maker’s ways, Who tends to the poor and visits the sick.
One who acts in that G-dly manner can go up on the special ladders that Hashem has been erecting since creation. The midrash (Tanchuma, Vayishlach 10) says that Hashem uses those ladders to raise and lower people, to enrich the poor and impoverish the rich. That is what happened to Yaakov who was bereft of all possessions when he ran away to
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