" ...and he took of the stones of the place... "
The sun set suddenly and Ya'akov avinu - Jacob our forefather - was compelled to pitch camp and stay the night. So Ya'akov "took of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place." (ibid) Now a person who has set out on a long journey knows that a good night's sleep is an imperative if he is to continue on his way in peace the following morning. Among other considerations to be made for a good night's sleep, comfort will surely be paramount. And anyone who has ever gone camping knows that the smallest pebble or bramble under one's bedroll will render utterly impossible a restful slumber. Yet Ya'akov, with great purpose, gathered up stones to employ as his pillow. Whatever was he thinking?
Midrash relates that the twelve stones that Ya'akov gathered up at that place were twelve stones that he pulled from the altar that his father Yitzchak had been bound upon one generation earlier. From this we learn that Ya'akov didn't stumble upon this place inadvertently. He knew exactly what this place was, that is, the place where his grandfather Avraham bound his father Yitzchak, the place where Adam first built an altar, the place known by our sages as the place of the world. That is, the place of the future Holy Temple.
Ya'akov deliberately dismantled the altar of Avraham and Yitzchak. Wasn't that disrespectful? Shouldn't he had stood off a bit in the distance, silently taking in the site of the great test of Avraham's faith? He could have meditated, contemplating the profundity of the site. But Ya'akov chose to do something else altogether. He chose, by deconstructing the altar and then reconstructing it as a pillow for his head, or should we say, a pillow for his consciousness, for his entire spiritual being, to opt into his father's and grandfather's experience of a direct and immediate relationship with G-d.
And Ya'akov took this paradigm of the man - G-d relationship not one, but many steps forward. He could hardly relive his father's experience by throwing himself down upon the altar. That was a onetime moment in the history of mankind. Instead, Ya'akov sought to take the intimacy of this moment and make it accessible to all. He removed twelve stones from the altar representing the twelve sons he was yet to have. He wanted to bequeath the Moriah experience of his father and grandfather to his children and to all further generations of man, through his children. This is the meaning of his exclamation upon awakening from his dream: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven." (ibid 28:17) Just as Avraham's tent was open and welcoming to all passers by, "the house of the G-d of Ya'akov" (Isaiah 2:3) would likewise be a true house, accessible to all.
Ya'akov chose to not only honor the holy site where he spent the night, but to bring it to life and make it his, through his own active intervention. Those who today only view the Temple Mount from afar, insisting that we must not approach the Mount, may be paying respect to the place of the Holy Temple, but they are also, intentionally or not, rendering the place and all that it stands for, distant and irrelevant. The positive commandment that we fulfill by visiting the Temple Mount, (in accordance with halacha), is known in Hebrew as mora Mikdash - showing reverence to G-d on the site of the Holy Temple. The word mora - reverence - is derived from the same root as the word Ya'akov avinu uttered, "ma nora," "How awesome is this place!" (Genesis 28:17) Visiting and making our presence felt, as Jews and believers in the G-d of Ya'akov, on the Temple Mount is a direct continuation of Ya'akov's own actions which he took on this spot to lay his rightful claim to the spot and to the covenant between man and G-d that it embodies. We are unable in our generation to pull stones from the altar itself, but by being on the Mount where we are commanded by Torah to be seen by G-d, we can begin to remove the stones that have lodged in our hearts.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven are transfixed by this week's Torah reading of Vayeitzei, and its connection to the Holy Temple - past, present and future, and how Yaakov's prophecy on the Temple Mount, as expressed in the rocks he gathered, is being fulfilled today.