Jacob left Be’er Sheva, travelling to Haran. He arrived a ‘the place’ and set up camp, taking of the stones and placing them about his head. He dreamed, seeing a vision of a ladder on which angels were ascending and descending… He woke up in the morning and took the stone that he had placed at his head and made it into a monument.
The Midrash on this passage relates that in the evening Jacob took numerous stones to place about his head, twelves stones to be exact. In the morning he took ‘the stone’ which he had placed about his head, for in the night the stones had quarreled, each stone desiring that Jacob should rest his head on it. In order that they all achieve their desire they were melded into one stone. In the morning Jacob took this one stone, formerly twelve, and erected a monument with it.
Every child who went to a proper day school knows this Midrash. Indeed they should, as Rashi cites this Midrash and everyone should have learned Rashi 🙂
For a child who learns of this story at a young enough age it is certainly reasonable to take the story at face value. However, an adult, or a child who learns this Midrash at an older age, will search for the deeper intent of this Midrash. The Midrash is using the discrepancy in the Torah’s narrative as a basis for the story. Initially there were stones (plural) and at the end there was a stone (singular). The Midrash brings out the lesson embedded in the Torah through this somewhat incredible story. The stones fought and then dissolved into one rock.
Every element of the world, according to our tradition, has a controller. The Talmud expresses this by writing that every blade of grass has an appointed angel that pushes it to grow. The spiritual counterpart of each physical element is real, even if we can’t see it. It has been demonstrated, for example, that plant-life grows better when it is treated with empathy. The energy field around the plant is affected by our negativity or positivity towards it. The same principle applies to everything, even to inanimate objects. This is not something we can measure, since there is no recognizable physical change or growth that occurs in a rock, but it nevertheless has a spiritual energy around it.
Every physical substance was created by G-d and therefore has a purpose in the world. Not every child in the class will get to be the star character in the play and not every element of creation fulfills a primary role. Some rocks contribute to the solidity of the earth’s composition and some contribute to the beauty of the landscape. Some rocks were chosen by Jacob to serve as a platform for his head that night. No doubt, if a rock could speak, it would have expressed a desire to have a greater role in its very long life that landscape design. An opportunity such as this, to be a surface to support Jacob’s head? That would be rock nirvana! Each rock said, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Rabbi Wein tells of an acquaintance of his who was an artist. She made a collage of Ronald Reagan and wished to present it to the White House. For eight years they pulled all the strings they could and mounted all the pressure they could exert but the White House would not accept it as a gift.
We all want to be part of something great. Jacob was something great. This Midrash teaches us that when we act toward a common end, when we function with the same goal as others, we are no longer disparate and separate. We become one body, working together to make something great. Jacob took ‘the stone’ that he placed about his head and made it into a monument; the stones gained a degree of immortality by virtue of serving a common purpose.