In Yaacov’s dream, a ladder was set up towards the earth and the top reached to heaven and angels were ascending and descending. G-d stood beside him and said “I am G-d,the G-d of Avraham your father,and the G-d of Yitzchak. The land on which you are lying I will give to you and to your seed……I am with you and I will protect you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you”.
When Yaacov awoke from his sleep,he said “Truly G-d is in this place and I did not know it”.
R’ E Munk wrote that this was the first time in his life that Yaacov was addressed by Divine speech. Just as with Avraham, this first revelation occurred just as he gave up a peaceful life at home to emigrate to a strange land.”G-d invests the family of Avraham with a mission which is destined to be accomplished to a degree in exile.To be Jewish means to remain faithful to G-d whilst in the midst of the other nations”.
R’ SR Hirsch wrote that three truths were revealed to Yaacov in the dream. The first is that the ladder’s purpose is ascent towards heaven. He was shown that the destiny of life should be sought above, and that the aspiration to ascend is not a man-made myth but an existing enduring reality. The second is that the angels of G-d are messengers of Divine providence.The third is that Yaacov could find G-d right beside him.The patriarchs were the bearers of G-d’s glory.
Yaacov called this place Beth-El, and set up a stone there as a pillar. He made a vow, that “if G-d be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going, will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house, and the Lord will be a G-d to me, then this stone which I have set up as a pillar, shall become a house of G-d and whatever You will give me, I will repeatedly tithe to You”. Yaacov implored G-d to be with him and protect him. R’ Munk wrote that he did not wish to succumb morally in the struggle for his daily bread, because in this struggle many lose their faith and morality and become non-believers. After having had his simple needs met,Yaacov wanted to return with his integrity intact, having been able to resist adopting the customs of Laban.
Nechama Leibowitz explored the nature of this word “if”. She understood it to imply that the promises of protection to the righteous are not absolute and unconditional but depend on the maintenance of standards. Man stands in judgement at every moment of existence and at any time his judgement could change. She quoted Ramban who explained that “the reason for the “if” qualification was lest sin should intervene”.Yaacov doubted his own ability to withstand temptation and might not ultimately prove worthy of the kindnesses promised him by G-d.
Beth El is a town 17km north of Jerusalem. It was excavated from 1927, then in “34, ’54, “57 and ’61. It features as a Canaanite town and then in the history of the Israelites, with growth during the reigns of David and Solomon. It was not destroyed until the Babylonian invasion and remained in ruins until the Persian period. It was included in the territory of Judah during the time of Nehemiah, fortified by the Syrians during the Hasmonean revolt and later captured by Vespasian. It was mentioned during the Byzantine period and by Christian travellers as being the site of a church in the 5th century CE.
For more information on Beth El, including a map, see here.