After Avram left Charan and arrived in the land of C’naan, he passed through Shechem and Elon Moreh. God appeared to him and said “To your descendents I will give this land.” Avram then built an altar and knew that he arrived in the right place. Then, in the next sentence, Breisheet 12:8 we see “From there he moved to the mountain that was east of Beit El and set up his tent. Beit El was to the west and Ai to the east. There he built an altar to God, and he proclaimed the name of God.”
We see from here that the first time that Avraham called out in the name of God was in Beit El.
When Avram, Sarai and Lot returned from Egypt we read (Breisheet 13:3-4) “He continued on his travels from the south to Beit El, until the place where he originally had his tent, between Beit El and Ai. To the site of the altar which he made there at first; and there Avram called in the name of God.”
In Parshat Vayetze, when Avraham’s grandson Yaakov is fleeing to Charan from his brother Esav, he arrives at a place which is at first not identified. There, he has the famous dream with the ladder and the angels ascending and descending. When Yaakov wakes up, he realizes that this is a holy place. In Breisheet 28:17-19 we read: “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than Beit Elokim (the house of God) and this is the gate of heaven’. Yaakov rose early in the morning and took the stone that he had placed at his head; and he set it as a monument and poured oil on top. He named that place Beit El, but Luz was the original name of the city.” Yaakov then makes a vow to God.
In Breisheet 31:13, when Yaakov is ready to leave Lavan’s house and return to C’naan, God appears to him and says “I am the Almighty of Beit El where you anointed a monument, where you made a vow to Me. Now arise and leave this land, and return to the land of your birthplace.”
Yaakov returned to C’naan and made peace with Esav. Following the episode of Dina’s rape, in Breisheet 35:1 we read: “God said to Yaakov, ‘Arise, go up to Beit El and live there. Make an altar there to the Almighty Who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esav.”
Yaacov and his family follow God’s instructions (Breisheet 35:6-7) “Yaakov comes to Luz, which was in the land of C’naan- that is, to Beit El- he and all the people that were with him. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Beit El for there God was revealed to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
We see from here that Beit El was an important stop for our forefathers when they arrived in the land as well as when they had to leave the land.
When B’nei Yisrael finally returned to conquer the land with Yehishua, Beit El was one of the first places where they situated themselves in order to attack the city of Ai (Yehoshua, 8:9.12).
Beit El, just north of Jerusalem was first excavated by the archaeologist Prof. William Albright at the beginning of the 20th century. After the Six Day War in 1967, it was identified by Prof. Ze’ev Vilnai as the site of Yaakov’s dream. A few months ago, I had the privilege of visiting Beit El. It was an amazing experience to stand at the spot where Avraham and Yaakov were standing when they called out in the name of God.