Imagine the scene: Jacob is fleeing from Esau, on his way to find a wife in the home of Laban. He is completely alone, as if there is no one else in the world, and – “because the sun had set” and darkness surrounded him – he finds the need to protect himself in this lonely, dark world. So he arranges twelve stones around his head.
I have a question.
How do twelve stones protect Jacob? I do not see in what way these stones could offer the slightest protection. If Jacob had built a structure around himself, I could understand. But these stones cannot protect him from any danger whatsoever! How do we understand this?
“Ma’ase avos siman l’bonim … the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.” This incredible episode provides a key to understanding our entire future!
We should never think that our protection is physical! The “normal” protective measures upon which the nations of the world rely do not apply to us at all! After all, we are the nation who live for a week each year in sukkahs - booths - which offer no physical protection whatsoever! The world surrounds itself with stone and wood and whatever other physical objects are available. In the end, when adversity comes, even a World Trade Center, whose structure dwarfed human measurements, offered no protection whatsoever.
On the other hand, the only protection the Children of Israel will ever have is “magain Avraham … the shield of Abraham,” the protection afforded by the Master of the Universe.
The nations of the world conduct surveys which predict, according to “logic,” that the Jewish People will “disappear” after a certain number of years or that there will be no more Jews who keep the Torah. They build museums to remind themselves how we used to exist. But their calculations bear no resemblance to reality. Reality emanates from Heaven, not earth.
Why does the Torah choose stones as the symbol of the twelves tribes of Israel, which surround and protect Jacob? (See Rashi on Genesis 28:11) Because human beings have a physical nature and sometimes a “heart of stone.” But G-d says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you …” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The prophet is telling us that, no matter how we begin, even as extremely earthly beings with hearts of stone, that – if we follow the ways of our father Jacob – we can become spiritual beings whose nature is changed from stone to “flesh” and who respond to the call of the Master of the Universe. As our nature changes, our protection is elevated from the physical to the spiritual level, which does not depend on brick and mortar … or on statistical surveys concerning our future “survival.” We do not depend on stone; we depend on “The Rock! Perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice. A G-d of faith without iniquity. Righteous and fair is He!” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
King David says that G-d will sate us “with honey from a rock” (Psalm 81).
Yes, honey can issue forth from a rock. If we follow the ways of our father Jacob, then our stony natures can turn into hearts of compassion and the twelve stones can become one nation of brothers and sisters united in the service of our Father and King. (See Genesis 28:18, where the twelve stones become “the” stone and see Rashi on 28:11).
Several weeks ago, I was walking through Jerusalem. It was getting close to sunset and I had not yet prayed the afternoon service. The small synagogue in the Geula neighborhood which I tried to enter was so jammed with Jews – thank G-d! – that I could not even approach the door. Then I saw a group leave the entrance and cross the street. They went around the corner to a wide alley and there they formed a new minyan - a quorum for prayer, right next to the busy street! I joined them. We prayed in the fresh air, in the middle of Jerusalem, with shoppers all around us, but in our own world, a world of closeness with the King of the Universe! And this was during the days when the Sons of Ishmael were attacking at random with knives. But the Children of Jacob were unafraid. “Mi k’amcha Yisroel …. Who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation on earth?” (II Samuel 7:23). Who else but the children of Jacob? I was so awestruck that I took a picture of this minyan. (Please see the accompanying photograph.) Here, among the streets of Jerusalem, the Children of Israel are turning to our Father in Heaven, from Whom our protection emanates!
Afternoon prayer service in Geulah
Yiddishe Mama with boy on a bike