Friday, November 14, 2014
"Yitzchak went forth to pray in the field" (Genesis 24:63) Marcheshvan 21, 5775/November 14, 2014
Last week's Torah reading concludes with the account of the Akeidah, the binding ofYitzchak by Avraham at "the place" which G-d commanded him. This week's parasha, Chayei Sara, concludes with the rendezvous between Yitzchak and his designated bride,Rivka, at a place called Be'er Lachai Ro'i. "And Yitzchak went forth to pray in the field towards evening," (Genesis 24:63), Torah tells us, and our sages teach us that the field referred to here is none other than the same "place" where Avraham was commanded byG-d to go, "the place," Mount Moriah, the place of the future Holy Temple. In two weeks time we will be reading parashat Vayeitzei, in which our third patriarch, Yaakov, goes to sleep in a place he would later call Beit El, dreams of a ladder connecting heaven to earth, and wakes up saying, "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) Three patriarchs, three fateful encounters, and each one, our sages teach us, took place in the same place, "the place,"Mount Moriah, the place of the future Holy Temple. Why?
Avraham is commanded to the place, and the action that he was commanded to perform there was one that would forever bind himself, Yitzchak, and his seed through Yitzchak, to G-d and to that place. Yitzchak returned to the place to pray, Torah tells us, to be seen by G-d in "the place," just as Avraham had said would happen. But Yitzchak went there not merely to pray, but also to be in "the place" when he would meet his brideRivka for the very first time. It was essential to Yitzchak that he should meet the person with whom he would create and shape the destiny of the children of Avraham, at thisplace, this place where he, himself, was forever transformed in the intimate presence ofG-d.
When Yaakov arrives at "the place" it is almost, on the surface, a happenstance. He was looking for a place to rest, to gather his thoughts, and to charge his batteries, as it were, for the long journey ahead. But it soon becomes a clear, both to Yaakov, and to us, that he was very deliberately directed to this place by G-d, who, as with Yaakov's fathers, chose this place to define His relationship with the future nation of Israel.
Three encounters, and each one every bit as full of risk and portent as in the instant when Avraham stretched out his arm with knife in hand, ready to perform G-d's will. HadRivka not been the perfect partner for Yitzchak, who knows what might have followed. Had she not directed Yitzchak's blessing toward Yaakov, there would not have been a nation called Israel. Had G-d and Yaakov not exchanged mutual vows, Yaakov might never have returned from Haran, and the Holy Temple might never have been built.
What is important, what is essential to note, especially in these times of upheaval, is that all three of our patriarchs, whether by command, personal initiative, or historical momentum, marched, strode, and even rushed to "the place" in order to be seen there byG-d, to receive His word and blessing, and to pledge to Him their allegiance to His plan and His presence in the world. Given an impossible task, Avraham, seeing "the place from afar," (ibid 22:4) did not turn and flee from the place so holy that G-d Himself made its location known to Avraham. Avraham sought the holy in this world, he sought G-d'snearness. He did not shy away from it.
Absolutely no one knew more that Yitzchak the awesome power of "the place," where he, himself, was bound and placed upon the altar. No one knew more than Yitzchak, (whose eyes were dimmed, Midrash tells us, by the tears of angels fearing for his life as he gazed heavenward toward his father's outstretched hand), the absolute dread and then deliverance that this place held for him. Yet without hesitation this is the very placeYitzchak wanted to be and needed to be when he would meet the future matriarch of his children's people.
Yaakov woke in profound fear from his dream, but rather than grab his bag and flee, he stood his ground. He declared, "This is none other than the house of G-d," (ibid 28:17) he "took the stone that he had placed at his head, and he set it up as a monument, and he poured oil on top of it," (ibid 28:18) and he made a vow. Yaakov did not run from the place, he embraced it. He embraced the place, and the G-d whose place it is, and he vowed that this place would remain always "the place" of meeting between G-d andYaakov's descendants, between G-d and man.
How much easier it would have been for all three of our patriarchs, each in his own way and with his own set of reasons and justifications, to back off from "the place," to stay away from the place and to warn others not to draw near. For all three patriarchs it was aplace of unprecedented fear and uncertainty, for all three an excruciating test of faith. For all three it was only their total trust in G-d that brought them to the place and that sent them from the place strengthened and determined to move forward with G-d in His plan for the future. Our sages tell us that the place for Avraham was a mountain, distant and foreboding, for Yitzchak, a meadow, serene and contemplative, and for Yaakov, a house, a place where G-d and his children could meet together, in ever generation, forever.
Three patriarchs, three encounters at the place, the place of the Holy Temple, and three different sets of circumstances by which they found themselves in the place: By commandment, by prayer and by Divine appointment. All three of these directives are calling us today: by Divine appointment G-d enabled the army of Israel to liberate the Temple Mount in 1967; by Torah we are commanded to be seen in this place by G-d; and by the men and women, the great great grandchildren of our patriarchs, whose hearts call upon them to ascend to the place, in spite of all the obstacles, in order to pray to our G-d Who calls us to here.
To flee from the holy, to back away from a direct encounter with G-d in the very placewhere He commands us to be, is not the way of our patriarchs, it is not the way of Torah. The people of Israel today, as a nation united and determined, need to ascend the Temple Mount, to rise to the occasion and to meet the challenge of being seen by G-d, here in "the place" where He has chosen.