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"Let the Righteous One Rest His Head on Me"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"Let the Righteous One Rest His Head on Me"

Adapted by Dov Karoll

And Ya'akov left Be'er Sheva for Charan. And he encountered the place and slept there, for the sun had set, and he took from the stones of the place and put them under his head, and he lay down in that place. (28:10-11)

Rashi (28:11, s.v. va-yasem) quotes a midrash (Bereishit Rabba 68:11) about the stones under Ya'akov's head:

The stones began to quarrel with one another. This one would say, "Let the righteous one rest his head on me," and this one would say, "Let him rest his head on me." God immediately made them into one stone. This is why it says, "And he [Ya'akov] took the stone that he had placed around his head" (verse 18) in the singular.

We will try to explain this strange midrash, but first let us examine the underlying concept behind it.

One can ask regarding many of the stories of Sefer Bereishit: why does everything need to be so difficult? Sarah is barren for many years, Rivka is barren, and in this week's parasha, Rachel is also barren. Furthermore, if Ya'akov had arrived in Charan with a ring, he could have married Rachel right away, and this would have eliminated all the complications that resulted from his working for Lavan, of Lavan tricking him, and all the problems that would eventually result from the conflict between Rachel and Leah. It would have eliminated the conflict between Yosef and his brothers, and the conflict between Yehuda and Efrayim throughout the generations.

Rather, the answer lies in the fact that life is not that simple. We have a principle regarding the stories of our forefathers, emphasized by the Ramban in his commentary on Bereishit (12:6 and on), that "ma'aseh avot siman la-banim," the actions of the forefathers serve as a sign or foreshadowing for their descendants. This is true not only regarding historical events, but also regarding the nature of the Jewish people and the world. And if there is a dualism and there is complexity in the world, this will be reflected in the lives of the forefathers. It is not by accident that Ya'akov had two wives. Rather, if there is dualism in the world, then Ya'akov needs to have two wives. All the complexities that result from this are not accidental; they come to teach us that this is the way God wants it to be. We are not to expect that life be simple, as we can see from the very lives of our forefathers.

Let us return to the Rashi mentioned above. In life, there are many important values that confront us, and we often need to choose between them. We are faced with choices between learning, performing acts of kindness, developing the land of Israel, and so on. Each goal cries out, "Let the righteous one rest his head on me." Similarly, in the Yeshiva, one can be conflicted in terms of what to learn: iyyun (in-depth study), beki'ut (surface-level study), halakha, aggada, machshava, and so on. Each one cries out, "Let the righteous one rest his head on me." When you walk into the library, you may sometimes feel that the different books there call out to you to study them as well.

In most cases, we are unable to "unite" all these worthy goals; we will need to choose between them. Most people are not able to master all areas of Torah. In recent generations, we have seen great people such as Harav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook zt"l and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, who were giants both in Talmudic learning and in Jewish thought. But most people will not be able to master all of this. We need to try to taste from each, and get as much as we can. But we are not able to respond fully to this call of, "Let the righteous one rest his head on me."

I would claim that the midrash quoted by Rashi is not talking about stones that are fighting. Stones do not have mouths and they do not speak. Ya'akov realized that he needed to build a nation that would be multi-faceted. Some versions of this midrash say that there were twelve stones. In other words, each of the twelve tribes of Israel represents different values and emphases, each with its own spiritual mission. Ya'akov is charged to unite all of these under one nation. In Kabbalistic terms, each of the Avot represented different themes: Avraham brought down the midda of chesed, Yitzchak the midda of gevura, and Ya'akov the midda of tif'eret, which is the merging of the others.

This is also the idea of the twelve tribes: each one represents a different hue, adds a different shade, to the nation. The midrash says that the Jewish nation is like a multi-faceted gem, with the different colors represented by the various tribes within the nation. Ya'akov took the twelve different messages, and incorporated them all in the one nation that would come out of him. This would not be easy, but this was his task.

We are not always able to unite our individual goals, as I mentioned. You are all young, and you need to be aware of this difficulty, and strive to navigate it as best as you can. This is important in your learning, in choosing a career, and in balancing your time for the rest of you life. You need to know how to respond to the call of, "Let the righteous one rest his head on me." I am an old man already, and I am what I am. But all of you need to do what you can to respond to the call.

[This sicha was delivered at se'uda shelishit of Parashat Vayeitzei, 5763 (2002).]