Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Unity without Uniformity: Merging Many Stones into One (Parshat Vayetze)


The book of Bereishiet is known as the book of Yetzira, the Book of Creation.

It begins with a focus on the physical creation of the world, and then continues with the creation of the Jewish people.

Avraham and Yitzchak both have a singular child that represents their Judaeo-legacy and contribution – moving to Yaakov, Rachel Leah, Bilah and Zilpah who gives birth to the family that becomes the Jewish people.

A cursory reading of Bereishiet will find that disagreement, dissenting opinions between family members is part of our DNA emerging from this Sefer Yitzira.

Before we lament this, we should remember that this is a genetic feature, an opportunity, not a flaw – as seen in this week’s portion.

Parshat Vayetze begins with a seminal moment in Yaakov’s life which has far-reaching implications:

“וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם כִּי בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ”

“As darkness approaches Yaakov spent the night in the place

“וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם”

“And he gathered from the stones of the place”

“וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו”

“And he put the stone under his head”

“וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא”

“And he lay down in that place.”

Rashi asks: Yaakov gathered many stones, but rested his head upon just one. How did this happen?

Quoting the Gemara in Chulin, Rashi explains that the stones were quarrelling. One said – upon me let this righteous man rest his head – and the other said – upon me let him rest. Whereupon God made them all into one stone.

What does this mean?

According to Rav Yehuda Amital, ztz”l, the stones represent the 12 tribes of the Jewish people.

It is significant that this merging of distinct stones into one occurs specifically in relation to Yaakov, highlighting his unique role amongst the Avot.

In contrast to Avraham and Yitzchak, each of whom have a particular individual focus: Avraham personifying chessed – loving-kindness – and Yitzchak exemplifying gevurah – inner spiritual strength…

….Yaakov, as the father of the twelve tribes, is the personification of tiferet – splendor – the result of the merging of various strengths together symbolizing the power  of healthy diversity in the patriarch who establishes  Jewish people.

In gathering those stones, Yaakov learns the lesson that his mission is to recognize that each of his children, each of the tribes each of the stones, has its own strengths, beauty and color.

And his task is to maintain those unique individual qualities even while fusing them together as a whole.

What an important message for us in a world in which people are busy admiring JUST their own stone and its own unique color!

Looking ONLY at our own perspective, our own paradigm of Judaism. Thinking that our way is the only way.

The individuals who say, “upon me let this righteous man rest his head.”

But if we are to realize the dream of Yaakov, we must address the opportunity of bringing all of Yaakov’s children together in harmony.

We must strive to embrace our differences and come together in such a way that allows us to rest our collective head on one, unified stone.

May we work tirelessly and ceaselessly to bring that vision to reality.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 27 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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