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Rav Dessler on Wayetze and Prayer

November 9, 2013

I would like to state at the beginning of this post that the plain meaning of the text in our Parsha is that Jacob had his ladder dream in what was always known to the Jewish people as Beth El, not Jerusalem. If you are wondering why the Midrash would transplant the incident to Jerusalem, see here, although I do not agree with all the views expressed therein.

Rashi says (28:17):

The house of God: Said Rabbi Eleazar in the name of Rabbi Jose ben Zimra: This ladder stood in Beer-sheba and the middle of its incline reached opposite the Temple, for Beer-sheba is situated in the south of Judah, and Jerusalem [is situated] in its north, on the boundary between Judah and Benjamin, and Beth-el was in the north of the territory of Benjamin, on the boundary between Benjamin and the sons of Joseph. Consequently, a ladder whose foot is in Beer-sheba and whose top is in Beth-el-the middle of its slant is opposite Jerusalem. This accords with what our Sages said, that the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “This righteous man has come to My lodging place [i.e., the Temple Mount]. Shall he leave without lodging?” And furthermore, they said: Jacob called Jerusalem Beth-el. But this place [which he called Beth-el] was Luz, and not Jerusalem. So, from where did they learn to say this? [i.e., that Luz was Jerusalem.] I believe that Mount Moriah was uprooted from its place, and it came here, [to Luz, i.e., at that time, Luz, Jerusalem and Beth-el were all in the same place], and this is the “springing of the earth” mentioned in Tractate Hullin, i.e., that the [site of the] Temple came towards him until Beth-el. This is the meaning of ויפגע במקום “And he met the place.”

Nahmanides disagrees with Rashi’s interpretation because the “springing of the earth” mentioned elsewhere usually involves someone’s journey being miraculously shortened, not that a place (the Temple Mount) came toward a person who was elsewhere (Beth El). Further, why would the Temple Mount have to spring to Beth El if Jacob had already troubled himself to backtrack many days to return to Beth El? Instead, Nahmanides believes that Jacob had his dream in Beersheba, and then the earth sprung for him, bringing him to Haran later that day.

In a section from Rav Dessler’s Michtav Me’Eliyahu that was never translated by Rabbi Aryeh Carmel as part of Strive for Truth, Rav Dessler defends Rashi’s interpretation:

When the choicest and most perfect of the righteous achieve the level of attachment in prayer, or even the complete form of preparation for such prayer, even the limitations of time and space do not stand before them, and all automatically achieve the state necessary for their service. This is the what is meant by the esoterical idea of kefitzat haderech (lit. “contracting the path”) as achieved by our father Jacob, peace be upon him. “When he reached Haran he said [to himself], ʻShall I have passed through the place where my fathers prayed and not have prayed too?ʼ He immediately resolved to return, but no sooner had he thought of this than the earth contracted and he immediately lighted upon the place” (Hullin 91b). Jacob merely prepared himself to return to the important place of prayer – and consequently, there was absolutely no impediment, because his spiritual service had no more need for spacial limitations. On the contrary, it was necessary for him to be there, and thus he was there, for every implement was created entirely for the sake of spirituality. This showed our father Jacob that through prayer G-d comes toward and draws close to man, and that is how attachment comes about, and therefore, through this “contraction” Mt. Moriah came to him (Rashi to Genesis 28:17). Nahmanides (to Genesis 28:17 )asked how this reported contraction was any different from that which occurred to Abrahamʼs servant Eliezer, [i.e. according to Rashi, Jacob first returned to Beth El, whereupon G-d brought Moriah to him, whereas according to Nahmanides and the plain meaning of the midrash in Hullin, Jacobʼs trip to Mt. Moriah was miraculously shortened, just like Abrahamʼs servantʼs trip to Haran was miraculously shortened, and the explanation or defense of Rashiʼs interpretation which is relevant to our discussion] is that such is the way of prayer and preparation. Spirituality comes toward the righteous one who aspires to it, and thus the limitation, which is the tool for attaining spirituality, changes in such a case.

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