Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where did Yaakov sleep?

The verses plainly say Yaakov slept and saw the ramp/ladder in Bes El, yet many midrashim endeavor to put him at Mount Moriah as well or instead. Why?

Answers tomorrow.

The answer, as aptly explained by Lurker:
The entire story of Yaakov at Beit El reads as a ringing endorsement of the Temple built there by Yeravam to replace the one in Jerusalem. Yaakov states, "Surely the Lord is in this place... this is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven!" (Bereishit 28:16-17). The "House of God" seems to be a direct parallel to the term "House of the Lord", used throughout the Tanakh as a reference to the Beit HaMikdash. In fact, so does the very name "Beit El" itself, which Yaakov bestows upon the place.

In case all that isn't clear enough, Yaakov continues and states it straight out, explicitly: In 28:20-22, Yaakov takes an oath that if God will enable him to return to Beit El, then Yaakov (or, by implication, his descendants) will actually construct a temple ("Beit Elohim") there.

Haza"l, theologically descended as they were from the kingdom of Judah rather than Israel, were disturbed by the implications of this endorsement of Yeravam's temple in Beit El, so (in certain midrashim, at least) they tried to recast it as Jerusalem.
Well done Lurker.

Left uninterpreted, the account of Jacob-in-Bethel is the ultimate George-Washington-slept-here-story. Not only did the famous Patriarch spend the night on the future site of Yeravam's Temple, he also erected a marker and promised to build a house of worship on that very spot. The midrshaim that seek to put Jacob at Mount Moriah instead, or, in the case of the famous contracting-land midrash, to put him at both Moriah and simultaneously, sound for all the world like interpretive dances performed to escape/erase what the verses plainly say: Yaakov slept and dreamt in Bethel.

Some additional points:

:: We all take it for granted that Jacob had his vision on Moriah* the spot where the Jerusalem Temple would ultimately be built, just as we all take it for granted that the attempted sacrifice of Isaac occurred there, too. However, neither are directly represented in the text (and, as Nachum Sarna points out, Abraham's decision to bring his own wood makes it unlikely that he had been sent to forested Moriah.) Like the idea that Noah preached repentance for 120 years and Abraham's monotheism, these are interpretations -- not necessarily incorrect interpretations, but interpretations, nonetheless.

:: Bible scholars see the the trip to Bethel as an etiological tale, composed for the purpose of justifying Yeravam's Temple after it had already been constructed. (Richard Elliot Friedman, who says that E, a northern text, was merged with J, the southern book, after the exile of the Northern kingdom, sees Genesis 28 as an example of the combined text, assigning the verses which use the J name of God to the J source (28:13-16), while assigning the promise to build a Temple to E (28: 17-18 and 20-22) I agree this sounds forced.

* Updated to reflect that fact that the verse does say that Issac was taken to "the land of Moriah"; the interpretation (per Sarna) is that this was the Har Habayis, rather then some general region in the desolate wilderness.

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