We begin this week's parsha with Yaakov on the run. He has fled his home and he needs to rest because it is nightfall.
In Perek 28, pasuk 11, we read:
וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם, כִּי-בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם, וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו; וַיִּשְׁכַּב, בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא
And Yaakov approached the place and slept there, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.
The Gemara in Chullin, 91b speaks about the stones that Yaakov took. While Yaakov begins with stones, it seems a few pesukim later, in pasuk 18, that he only is sleeping under one stone.
The pasuk says that when Yaakov awoke after his dream/prophecy, with the angels ascending and descending the ladder followed by receiving Hashem's promise to him, Yaakov took one stone that was under his head, and with it, anointed the place.
וַיַּשְׁכֵּם יַעֲקֹב בַּבֹּקֶר, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הָאֶבֶן אֲשֶׁר-שָׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו, וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתָהּ, מַצֵּבָה; וַיִּצֹק שֶׁמֶן, עַל-רֹאשָׁהּ
And Yaakov rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
Chazal's midrash interprets that initially, Yaakov was collecting a number of rocks upon which to sleep. Yet, the stones began fighting with one another. Each one wanted the privilege of having Yaakov rest his head directly on it. As a result, Chazal teach, that the rocks merged together into a single stone. In that way, Yaakov's head rested upon each one of the stones.
The Shemen HaTov, Rav Dov Weinberger takes the message of this midrash to explain the importance of spiritual and lay religious leadership. One role of a leader is to be the individual who seeks to settle disputes and try to maintain harmony among constituents. The disputes among the rocks under Yaakov's head can potentially point to the quarreling and controversy that causes the demise of many institutions and communities.
It is the effective leader who is able to unify or at least puts forth a concerted effort to ensure that community stays together under challenging moments and even strengthens it.
Instead of each person vying for personal prominence, a leader creates the space for a multifaceted community which coalesces and strengthens each other in communal service, healthy dialogue and mutual respect.
This midrashic interpretation follows beautifully in the following perek, Chapter 29. Following his overnight, Yaakov arrived at a well outside Charan. There he sees three herds of sheep with their shepherds. The shepherds explain to Yaakov that they are waiting for the herds to come together so that the shepherds will be able to remove the large stone covering the well. In Perek 29, pesukim 2-3, the Torah says:
וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה בְאֵר בַּשָּׂדֶה, וְהִנֵּה-שָׁם שְׁלֹשָׁה עֶדְרֵי-צֹאן רֹבְצִים עָלֶיהָ--כִּי מִן-הַבְּאֵר הַהִוא, יַשְׁקוּ הָעֲדָרִים; וְהָאֶבֶן גְּדֹלָה, עַל-פִּי הַבְּאֵר
וְנֶאֶסְפוּ-שָׁמָּה כָל-הָעֲדָרִים, וְגָלְלוּ אֶת-הָאֶבֶן מֵעַל פִּי הַבְּאֵר, וְהִשְׁקוּ, אֶת-הַצֹּאן; וְהֵשִׁיבוּ אֶת-הָאֶבֶן עַל-פִּי הַבְּאֵר, לִמְקֹמָהּ
And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, three flocks of sheep lying there by it. For out of that well they watered the flocks. And the stone upon the well's mouth was great. And there were all the flocks gathered; and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone back upon the well's mouth in its place.
Without the collective strength of the shepherds, they would not be able to move the stone from the well.
The Ramban on these verses quote a Midrash that describes this episode as symbolic of aliya le-regel, the nationwide pilgrimage to the Beit Ha-mikdash on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.
The Midrash describes these three herds as representing the three pilgrimage festivals. The well symbolizes the Beit HaMikdash, which gave forth the life giving waters of purity, sanctity and spirituality.
But, what is necessary, explains the Ramban, is that the well was only capable of giving forth the water when the shepherds assembled together, joined forces and saw the intrinsic importance in the contributions of each one.
One theme coming through in Chazal's midrashim in this parsha is that productivity and advancement of our goals can be attained through unity despite differences. The roles of the Beit HaMikdash or religious leadership is to bring all members of the people together in the service of the Hashem. Every segment of the population must work together to access the "water" from the well and be recognized and inspired by its leadership.
The last pasuk in Perek 28, Yaakov takes that stone from under his head and declares:
וְהָאֶבֶן הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי מַצֵּבָה--יִהְיֶה, בֵּית אֱלֹקים
this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house
This single stone represents a place which will ultimately be a place of bringing those together in the service of Hashem.
Chazal teach, that when the opposite took place, when our leadership collapsed and disrespected one another, when the one place of the Beit HaMikdash became a place of contention and not cohesion, the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash occured. It led to the unraveling and dispersion of our people - each one left to do the difficult task of removing "the heavy stone" on their own - to attempt to continue to access the water of Torah and spirituality striving on one's own.
Now, especially when our people in Israel and other communities across the globe are in need of tefillot, healing and collaboration, we must appreciate that we require the efforts of all the “herds” to gather together in peace and unity, to honor differences, find a way to work together and appreciate various piskei halakha. In this way, we can succeed by recognizing the intrinsic value of each member, to welcome each person in a sincere desire to once again access the sacred “waters” of Torah and for the leaders to allow everyone access to them as well.
May the coming week bring us steps closer to such cohesion for Klal Yisrael and may we hear b'surot tovot in Medinat Yisrael and our world.