Parshat Vayeitzei speaks about Jacob's descent to Charan. On the way, he stopped at Mount Moriah and had the dream that angels were going up and down a ladder, G‑d blessed him, and he prayed to G‑d.

Everything the Torah tells us about our forefathers is a lesson to us, especially in our service to G‑d. Let us examine this story and see how it pertains to us.

When he came to the mountain, scripture tells us that that the sun had set, "and he took from the stones of the place and put it around his head, and he lay down in that place."1 The Torah did not need to tell us how Jacob gathered the stones and put them around his head. What, then, are we meant to learn from it? If you look at the literal translation of the words, it says that "he put it around his head." First there were several stones, and now there was one stone. What are we to derive from this detail?

Later, he lays down. It is interesting to note that the Midrash2 tells us that before Jacob's descent to Charan, he spent 14 years studying Torah in the academy of Shem and Eber. The whole time he was there, he didn't once lay down to sleep. This was the first time that he lay down. What are we to take from this point?3

After having his dream and recognizing that G‑d's presence was there, Jacob woke up in the morning and set up the stone that was under his head as a monument. Later, in his prayer, he says, "And this stone that I set as a monument will be a house for G‑d."4 What is the idea of a stone being a house for G‑d?

Jacob says a prayer in the form of an oath: "If G‑d will be with me, and will protect me on this journey that I am undertaking, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear. And if I will return to my father's home in peace (b'shalom), then the L‑rd (Havaya) will be to me as G‑d (Elokim)."5 The simple meaning of this prayer is understood. What is its spiritual symbolism?

Jacob says, "And if I will return to my father's home in peace." When one uses the word "return," it’s meaning is to go back to where one started. In our parshah, we read that he had left from Be'er Sheba. Shouldn't he say, “And if I return to Be'er Sheba”? Why does he say, "to my father's home"? Also, it is not enough that he return, but he asked to return "b'shalom,” in peace. What is the idea of returning in peace?

And finally, Jacob says, "the L‑rd will be to me as G‑d." What other option is there? Wouldn't G‑d be his G‑d even if he didn't return in peace?

Descent of the Spirit

On a spiritual level, Jacob's descent from Be'er Sheba to Charan is the descent of the soul into the world. This story teaches us the mission and goal of the soul’s descent, which mirrors the purpose of the Jewish people in this world.

The mission of the soul is to transform the body and its place in the world into a dwelling place for G‑d. It leaves Be'er Sheba, its holy abode above, and makes its way to this lowly world. Just as Jacob's dream, before leaving the heavens, G‑d blesses Jacob’s soul, reassuring it that He will always be with it and protect it. In other words, G‑d strengthens each of us and fortifies us with what we need to accomplish our mission.

Jacob took stones, symbolizing the lowest physical, inanimate and fragmented existence, and he united them into a single entity. That is why they are first called "stones" and then called "it." What had been fragmented had coalesced into one cohesive unit.

He then tells G‑d that he will make the stone into a home for G‑d. Meaning, he will turn even the lowest level of existence into a home for G‑d.

How does one do this? Jacob says, "If you will give me bread to eat." Bread is symbolic of Torah, which nourishes the soul. "And clothing to wear," symbolizing mitzvot. In Kabbalah, mitzvot are called the garments of the soul. Unlike Torah, which permeates one’s mind and heart, mitzvot are G‑d's will, beyond our ability to understand, therefore not permeating our minds and hearts. Instead, these abilities remain outside and surround us like garments.6 Also, just like different garments allow you to be in different environments, it is Torah and mitzvot that you do in this world that serve as garments of the soul in heaven, allowing the soul to enjoy G‑d's radiance.7 It is through these Torah and mitzvot that we refine ourselves and the world around us.8

Rocks are symbolic of an even lower level of existence. Not the things that involve Torah and mitzvot, but the mundane pleasures of life such as eating, drinking, working, exercising, or even vacationing. If done with the right intention, they too can be made into a home for G‑d. This is the greatest possible transformation that one could achieve. The rock remains a rock, but it becomes a rocky home for G‑d.

This idea is stressed by Jacob laying down. The head symbolizes the highest level, G‑dliness, and the feet the lowest, the most mundane. Normally, the head is above and the feet are below. But when you lay down, you put them on the same level—symbolizing drawing G‑dliness into the mundane,9 leveling out the playing field.

Not only does Jacob teach us this lesson, but it is hinted in his name. In Hebrew, the name Jacob could be divided into the letter yud, which symbolizes G‑d, and the word aikev, “heel,” the lowest part of the body. When you bring them together, you have Jacob, drawing G‑dliness into the lowest of places.

After the soul does its mission, it returns above. However, it doesn't return to the same place it came from. Rather, due to its work down here, it attains a much higher level. That is the idea of "and I will return to my father's home." Not just to Be'er Sheba, where he came from, but to a much greater place, to his Father's home.

This is also the story of our nation going down into exile. We are here to do a mission, to make this world into a dwelling place for G‑d. When we complete the mission, we won't return to our previous state, but to a an infinitely higher place, where we will see G‑d in everything.

Jacob asked to return b'shalom, “in peace” (or “whole”). Rashi explains that he was praying not to be influenced by Laban. In other words, when there are obstacles, enemies or negative influences, one can be adversely affected by them, remaining less than whole. Contending with your body and the world around you, making them into a home for G‑d, can be a great struggle. We ask to succeed without being negatively affected. This is similar to what King David said, "Redeem my soul in peace (b'shalom)."10 Because many wanted to do him harm, causing him to fight many wars, he was not only asking to survive, but that he not be adversely affected at all.

There is another meaning of "b'shalom." When you have such a powerful effect on your adversaries that, instead of working against you, they become a help. This means that the body and the world around you become totally transformed, until they are totally in sync with G‑d's will. This will be the case when Moshiach comes.

Now we can understand why Jacob says, "the L‑rd (Havaya) will be to me as G‑d (Elokim)." Because, although the life force of existence is from the name Havaya, that energy is too much for the physical world to handle. The name Elokim makes existence possible by filtering the Havaya energy. That is why in the story of creation the name Elokim is used: "In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth."11 So the norm for us is that Elokim is to us as G‑d. We don't experience the name Havaya.

However, through refining ourselves and our place in the world, we can attain a higher level, in which we can sense Havaya in everything, to the point that we see Havaya as G‑d (Elokim). When Moshiach comes, this will be the norm, as we will see Havaya in everything, as it says,12 "That the world will be filled with the knowledge of Havaya as the waters cover the sea."13

May our efforts to refine ourselves and the world around us be successful and may we merit to see Havaya in everything soon with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.