Shiur #19b: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina(Part IX) - The Service of Yaakov - Part 2
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #19b: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina
The Service of Yaakov - Part 2
Rav Yitzchak Levi
III. THE ALTARS
1) THE ALTAR IN SHEKHEM
And Yaakov came safely to the city of Shekhem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-Aram; and pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the piece of land on which he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Chamor, Shekhem's father, for a hundred pieces of money. And he erected there an altar, and called it El-Elohei-Israel. (Bereishit 33:18-20)
The expression "and he erected [va-yatzev] an altar" (as opposed to "and he built [va-yiven] an altar") is unique to Yaakov, and brings to mind the setting up of a pillar [matzeva]. The Radak (ad loc.) comments:
The fact that it says, "he erected," and not "he built," indicates that it was only one stone; he set it up and offered a sacrifice on it.
Here too following the erection of the altar we find a naming El-Elohei-Israel. The commentators disagree whether this name was given to the altar or to God. As for the substance of the naming, the Radak writes as follows:
He gave this name to the altar so that it should serve as a reminder that God had saved him on his journey, sent him an angel, and changed his name to Israel, that is to say, that he strove with God. This explains why the altar has this name. And similarly, Moshe our Master called the altar that he had built "the Lord is my miracle" (Shemot 17:15), to remember the miracle that God had performed for them
Regarding this altar as well like most of the altars built by the patriarchs (see lecture no. 14) there is no explicit mention of it being used for the offering of sacrifices.
2) THE ALTAR IN BET-EL
And God said to Yaakov, Arise, go up to Bet-El, and dwell there: and make there an altar to God, who appeared to you when you did flee from the face of Esav your brother. Then Yaakov said to his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and make yourselves clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bet-El; and I will make there an altar to God, who answers me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way on which I went So Yaakov came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bet-El, he and all the people that were with him. And he built there an altar, and called the place El-Bet-El: because there God appeared to him, when he fled from the face of his brother. (Bereishit 35:1-7)
This is the first time that anybody was commanded to build an altar. According to the simple understanding, the altar was built as a sign of thanksgiving for God's appearance to Yaakov when he fled from Esav, and in fulfillment of the vow that Yaakov had taken at that time. As the Seforno explains: "'And build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled' to give thanks for having fulfilled the promise made there. As they say (Berakhot 54a): He recites the benediction, 'Who performed a miracle on my behalf in this place.'"
Midrash Lekach Tov (cited here from Torah Sheleima to Bereishit 35:7, letter 32) says that the altar was built precisely in the place where the stone had been placed:
"And he built there an altar." He renewed the stone that had been put under his head, about which it is written: "And this stone, which I have set for a pillar." When "shall [it] be God's house"? When he comes from Padan-Aram, as it says: "And he built there an altar."
Rav Hirsch explains (consistent with his whole approach) that the building of an altar in a place where there was a pillar means building a house of God in the place of a revelation and the building of an altar alongside it. Thus Yaakov, on his return from Charan and in fulfillment of his vow, combines the two elements: a pillar and an altar.
Here too in the wake of the building of the altar we find a naming of the place. And here too there is no mention of sacrifices.
IV. ZEVACHIM - OFFERINGS
Yaakov is the first of the patriarchs about whom the Torah says that he slaughtered zevachim. We find two instances of zevachim.
1) THE ZEVACH ON MOUNT GIL'AD
Yaakov's first zevach was at Mount Gil'ad, when he returned from his first period of exile, following his confrontation with Lavan:
Then Yaakov offered a zevach upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night on the mountain. (Bereishit 31:54)
The commentators explain that we are dealing here with the slaughter of a non-consecrated animal (see Rashi and Radak). The Meshekh Chokhma writes that thus far the Torah had made no mention of slaughtering an animal: "Yaakov slaughtered and introduced the mitzva of slaughter."
2) THE ZEVACHIM IN BE'ER SHEVA
Yaakov's second zevach was in Be'er-Sheva, before he went down into the exile of Egypt:
And Israel took his
journey with all that he had, and came to Be'er-Sheva, and offered zevachim
to the God of his father
Here the zevachim are peace offerings (see Shemot 24:5), Yaakov being the first to offer peace offerings to God.
Even though this is not explicitly stated in Scripture, it is possible
that this was in the same place that
According to the Radak,
the words "to the God of his father
He offered sacrifices in
Be'er-Sheva which lies on the border of Eretz Cana'an.
Before he left the land, he wanted to know God's will whether or not He would
prevent him as He had prevented his father
The Ramban (in the wake of Bereishit Rabba 94, 5) explains the purpose of the sacrifice in a different manner:
For when Yaakov came to
go down to Egypt, he saw that the exile would start with him and his seed. He
feared it, and offered many sacrifices to the object of his father
That is to say, the purpose of the offerings was to allay the attribute of justice, and therefore he offered zevachim, peace offerings, rather than olot, burnt offerings.
Rav Hirsch understands Yaakov's sacrifices differently:
We do not find again
that our ancestors offered zevachim. They, like all Noachides only
offered olot (burnt offerings). An ola expresses giving oneself up
completely to God. Zevach in itself is a family meal to be eaten by the
owners, and consecrates the "family-house" and the family table to a Temple and
For zevachim which as a rule are shelamim express the higher
thought that "God comes to us." They are, accordingly, brought from that happy
consciousness that where a family circle lives united and faithful to duty, and
feels that God is caring for it, there God is present. That is why shelamim
of family life blessed by God, are so specifically Jewish. The idea of being
absorbed in God, devoted to God dawns in non-Jewish feelings also. But that
one's ordinary day-by-day life can be so penetrated by the idea of God that one
"eats and drinks and sees God thereat," that all our ordinary living rooms
become a Temple, our dining-table an altar, our sons and daughters priests and
priestesses, that through and through spiritualizing of our ordinary private
lives, that is a gift of Judaism. The reason that Yaakov-Israel brought, not
olot but zevachim lay in the fact that now for the first time
Yaakov felt himself happy and joyful and "complete" in his family circle. It was
in this consciousness and feelings that he brought his offering with deep
significance, not to God in general, but to the God of his father
Shelamim denote wholeness, and now Yaakov is going down to Egypt knowing that his family is whole. The owners participating in the eating of the meat of the shelamim offerings man eating from God's table reveals the wholeness of reality, which allows a connection between mundane life and holiness. Yaakov is he whose bed is whole, he from whom the entire people of Israel descends and is called by his name, he who called the place of the Mikdash a house in short, Yaakov represents a fixed and whole reality and therefore he sacrifices shelamim.
V. MOUNTAIN, FIELD, AND HOUSE
And Rabbi Elazar said:
What is the meaning of the verse: "Many peoples shall go and say, Come you and
let us go up to the mount of the Lord, to the house of the God of Yaakov"
(Yeshayahu 2:3) the God of Yaakov, but not the God of Avraham and
Rabbi Elazar describes three different attitudes toward the Mikdash, that correspond to the nature and essence of each of the patriarchs: a mountain a high place that one must climb up; a field found on a mountain and which one takes hold and control of; and a house a defined structure on the mountain or in the field.
Avraham expresses the idea of climbing a mountain going up to Eretz
Israel from the land of the Kasdim; going up to Mount Moriya; and dealing with
challenges and missions.
The various designations used by the patriarchs for the place of the
Mikdash also reflect their various points of encounter with God. Avraham,
whose most prominent quality is lovingkindness (chesed), sees this
encounter in the form of a mountain his entire life he rises from one test to
the next, and strives to lift himself up to God and become close to Him; Avraham
is the first to pray the first person to stand before God.
The Acharonim explain Rabbi Elazar's statement in different ways. The Maharal (Derekh Chayyim 5:4) writes that each of the three Temples stands by virtue of one of the patriarchs. And therefore:
Avraham called it a
mountain, which indicates destruction, because the first Temple would eventually
be destroyed. And similarly
The Maharsha (Chiddushei Aggadot, Pesachim 86b) offers a similar explanation:
Mountain symbolizes the first Temple that the Shekhina watched over like a guard on the top of a mountain, though it was a temporary, rather than a fixed watch. About this it says: "Because of the mountain of Zion which is desolate" (Eikha 5:18) Field marks the second Temple which was watched over very little, for it lacked several things that were in the first Temple, and about it the verse says: "Zion shall be plowed like a field" (Yirmiyahu 26:18; Mikha 3:12) A palace marks the last Temple that will be built speedily in our days, which will be watched over in a superior manner and will be lived in like a palace, for then people will go "to the house of the God of Yaakov" (Yeshayahu 2:3).
And the Netziv (Ha'amek Davar, Bereishit 12:17, s.v. eishet Avraham) explains:
Avraham our father called the Temple Mount, the site of God's providence, a mountain because Avraham our father saw from there providence in war, and therefore likened it to a mountain which can lead to victory, as it is written (Devarim 33:19). And Yaakov saw from there an abundance of maintenance, and therefore called it a field. And Yaakov called it a house because it leads to peace between those who live there together.
The author of Kiryat Sefer has an interesting suggestion (Hilkhot Bet Ha-bechira, chap. 5):
It seems that the
sanctity of the Temple Mount was conferred by Avraham our father who called it a
mountain. And the sanctity of the Temple courtyard was conferred by
SUMMARY: THE WORSHIP OF GOD DURING THE PERIOD OF THE PATRIARCHS
In the last few lectures I have examined the patriarchs' worship of God as it expressed itself in the building of altars, erection of pillars, and offering of sacrifices.
We saw that according to
the plain sense of Scripture, the altars were not used for sacrifices, but
rather as an expression of gratitude for the connection with God and as
testimony to God's deliverance, providence, appearance, and assistance. They
were similar to the altar built by the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half the
tribe of Menashe when they returned to the east bank of the Jordan (Yehoshua
22). The primary purpose of this testimony (as is explicitly stated in
several verses relating to Avraham and
Besides the offering of
the ram as a burnt offering at the Akeida in place of
Yaakov was unique in his setting up of pillars, which were viewed with favor during the period of the patriarchs and which complemented the altars another aspect of the wholeness expressed in the figure of this patriarch. The last instance of a pillar set up in a permitted manner was at the foot of Mount Sinai, at which time it became forbidden and was thereafter despised owing to its deep connection to idol worship.
This lecture concludes the discussion of the worship of God in the book of Bereishit. In the next lecture, we will consider the revelation and worship of God from the time of His revelation at Mount Sinai until the building of the Mishkan.
(Translated by David Strauss)
 Regarding Avraham at the Akeida it says that he offered up (va-ya'alehu) a ram (Bereishit 22:13).
 Be'er-Sheva is the southern gateway into Eretz Israel.
 It is interesting that immediately following the offering of the zevachim, God appears to Yaakov in a night vision in the name of Elohim (Bereishit 46:2), that is, with the attribute of justice.
As an aside, it should be noted that we find here another phenomenon that is unique to Yaakov: a revelation that comes in the wake of Divine service (the offering of a zevach) and not in the usual order that we find with the patriarchs, that the revelation comes first, and the service (building an altar, calling upon the name of God, or offering a sacrifice) comes in its wake. This touches upon the question regarding the relationship between human action and Divine revelation, and it is possible that this point human action is also characteristic of Yaakov.
 According to this explanation, we can connect to this also the offering brought at Mount Gil'ad.