Parshas Vayeitzei: Mountain, Field, House

The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) discusses the future return to the Beis Hamikdash in terms of a quote from this week’s parashah.

And R. Elazar said: What is it when it says (Yeshaiah 2) “And many nations will go and say ‘Let us go and go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the house of the G-d of Yaacov!'”? [Does it mean] the G-d of Yaacov, but not the G-d of Avraham and Yitzchak? Rather, [Yeshaia means] not like Avraham, by whom it is written “har, a mountain, as it says (Bereishis 22) “which is called today The Har Where Hashem will be Seen”, and not like Yitzchak, by whom it is written “sadeh“, a field, as it says (Bereishis 24) “and Yitchak went out to converse [with G-d] in the field”. Rather like Yaacov, by whom it is written “bayis“, a house, as it says (Bereishis 28) “And he called the name of the place Beis-El.”

Each of the forefathers had an encounter with G-d at Moriah. To Avraham it was a har, to Yitzchak, a sadeh, and to Yaacov, a bayis. R. Elazar is saying that the third Beis Hamikdash will be similar to Yaakov’s experience, a bayis.

R. Yisrael Avraham Abba Krieger (Divrei Yisrael I) explores the meaning of each of these terms, to help us understand how each of the avos related to G-d, and how this is reflected in the Batei Mikdosh.

To Avraham, it was like climbing a mountain. Not everyone can climb a mountain, and even then you need favorable conditions — rain can wash away the trail, wind can cause landslides. As King David wrote, “Who can climb onto the Har of G-d?” Avraham’s encounter at Moriah was during the akeidah the last of ten challenges he faced to get to this point. He had to climb from an environment ignorant of G-d, and struggle until he reached the pinacle.

Yitzchak was able to build from that platform. He didn’t need to struggle go to some remote inaccessible place. He davened in the middle of the sadeh. With no borders, allowing the holiness to radiate to the rest of the world.

Yaacov came to Moriah, and found a bayis. While a sadeh does not require that kind of struggle, it is still open to the elements. A bayis protects those who enter it.

We can find these same three kinds of relationships looking at the three Batei Mikdosh.

When Yehoshuah came to the land, after 40 years in the desert, he had to conquer it. We went through the struggles of that era, the Shoftim, and Shaul before we were ready to build the First Beis Hamikdosh. It was the top of the har, high and glorious, but hard to reach.

The problem with the trail up the har is that if you veer even a bit from the road of halacha, you are no longer at the peak. R. YAA Krieger draws the image of the Yom Kippur scapegoat, pushed off the edge of the mountain, and falling until destroyed. So too the first commonwealth. When we couldn’t maintain that spiritual height, we plummeted into exile.

Zerubavel, Yeishua, Nechemia and Ezra regroup to rebuild the Second Beis Hamikdosh. It didn’t have the loftiness of the first, the aron and other articles of the kodesh hakadashim were missing, as was the pillar of cloud that represented Hashem’s presence over the aron. The elders who saw the second bayis remembered the first and cried, only the youth rejoiced. It was a sadeh, not as lofty, but there was no struggle to climb.

As the Jews lost grounding, other nations, the Hellenes, the Romans, entered the sadeh. It has no border, no protection from the winds that blow us about the face of the earth. After a while, Rome — whose ancestor Eisav was called in last week’s parashah a ‘man of the sadeh‘, destroyed the Temple, and scattered us.

The Third Temple, however, will be in Yaacov’s mode. It will be a bayis, a home, protecting us from the elements, spiritual protection insuring permanence to the kingdom and the ideals it will stand for. “For My bayis will be called a beis tephillah, a house of prayer for all the nations.”

When learning this dvar Torah, I was reminded of a verse which appears to imply the opposite, “And I will remember My covenant of Yaakov and even My covenant of Yitzchak, and even My covenant of Avraham, and the land I will remember”. Here it appears that the final return to Israel will be built on Avraham’s mode, not Yaacov’s.

There is a famous gemara which talks about Hashem “wearing tephillin”, as it were. The verse in His “tephillin” is “And who is like Your nation Israel, a singular people in the land”. While our tephillin speak of our attachment to G-d, His are about our love for Him. Similarly, we call the holidays by what Hashem did for us, while He calls them by what we do for Him. We call it Pesach, to recall how Hashem skipped our doors the night of the tenth plague. In the Torah, the holiday is named after the mitzvah of Matzos.

We approach this relationship thinking of the bayis, the protection and home G-d provides for us. Hashem “remembers” the covenant of Avraham, the years of climbing the har, of 10 trials and wandering in the desert. This is typical of all good relationships, where each focuses on what they’ve recieved, and not what they’ve given.

To this day, each new son is marked with the os bris, the sign of the covenant with Avraham. In the merit of this os and keeping the covenant of serving G-d even when challenges stand in our way, may we merit to soon see the day of the permanent bayis.

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