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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

He took from the stones of the place which he had set around his head, and lay down in that place.

Rashi: The stones began arguing among themselves. One said, “The tzadik should rest his head on me,” and another said, “Upon me [he should rest].” Immediately, HKBH turned them into one stone, as it is stated{2}, “He took the stone that he had placed under his head.”

Do stones argue? Many people object to this maamar Chazal because of this question. If they would stop and think about what it was that they disputed, they might also understand how there could be a dispute between inanimate rocks.

“They will sanctify the Holy One of Yaakov{3}.” This is one of many examples linking Yaakov with kedushah. Bottom line: Yaakov represents the embodiment of holiness. The Torah describes Yaakov’s years of involvement with earthly things. Despite all that effort, he remained aloof and above all of that, never miring himself in the world of things. He transcended all of the physical in which he toiled; by transcending it, by resisting its spell, by remaining independent of it and its restrictions he effectively became master of it, just as Hashem is Master of the upper worlds. Yaakov could use all of it, without become enslaved to it.

Our world is a place of many things and many distinctions. We do not observe any oneness; that is all hidden. Everything we deal with seems to be composed of smaller elements; those too can be further subdivided. This is a world of the many – of the multiplication of things, and of their divisions. We detect oneness only in Hashem, in Whom all things are sourced and all things united. It is also only in Hashem that we detect real kedushah, real transcendence.

If Yaakov is linked to kedushah, then he shares these characteristics with Him. Yaakov is a limited refraction of the kedushah and unity of Hashem, as applied to our world of boundaries and limitations. It is for this reason that we are called Bnei Yisrael, rather than Bnei Avrohom or Bnei Yitzchok. As the paragon of kedushah, Yaakov can unite all his children in all generations, just as he united his twelve sons, turning them into a single, common cause. It is to Yaakov that the sons univocally recite the Shma, the proclamation of G-d’s Oneness, at the same time telling him, “Just as to you there is only One in your heart, so it is to us{4}.” (As the third of the avos, Yaakov is well suited to the role. The number two signifies polarity and difference. With the number three comes the possibility of an intermediate point that pulls in and pulls together the extremes, creating unity where there was previously difference.) To this day, the glue that binds us together as a people is the kedushah of Yaakov.

This, then, is the meaning of the dispute. No one stone could lay greater claim to Yaakov, because he attracted everything in his orbit. All things that related to him, gravitated towards him. There was no room for multiplicity in his personal universe. In the end, because the different stones were all attracted equally to him, they all had to come together and form a single stone. (In particular, it was Yaakov’s need to rest his head – the seat of the sechel – on a stone that caused the tension between the stones, and the subsequent resolution. The intellect is the active agent in creating unity. The stones were drawn specifically to it.)

We are not sure whether the stones fused permanently or not. Possibly, their change was fixed and was not reversed. (This should not surprise anyone.) It is also possible that the stones came together during Yaakov’s prophetic dream, when he was catapulted to an even higher spiritual level than usual. It is possible that they reverted to their former state when Yaakov reverted to his. It does not really matter how long the stones merged together.

No longer need we object to Chazal attributing understanding to inanimate stones. The stones did not, in fact, contend with each other, each one vying for closeness with the tzadik as a matter of choice. Choice takes understanding, and stones do not possess it. Chazal do not depict a debate between the stones so much as their performing according to their essence. There were many stones; in Yaakov’s presence, there was no room for the many, only for unity. Their condition of plurality gave way to oneness, as surely as non-intelligent plants manifest their behavior without having to think about what they are doing. They act according to their nature. Here, it was in the nature of things that the many gave way to the one.

You might object that the behavior of plants is built into the scheme of natural law, while stones never come together. This observation is true, but unnecessarily narrow. Under ordinary conditions, obeying what we call natural law, stones do not merge. Yaakov, however, transcended the ordinary laws of nature, especially during an episode of prophecy. Not limited by ordinary law, an alternate, higher form of law applied to him. And in that system, all plurality melted away before him. Stones became one.

All this was a consequence of Yaakov’s transcendent kedushah. Whatever joined up with him became organically part of him, not just externally related. And it became part of simplicity and unity, which reflected the Unity Above.

1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Bereishis 28:11 and Chidushei Aggados, Chulin 91B
2. Bereishis 28:18
3. Yeshaya 29:23
4. Pesachim 56A