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Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:3[2])

This week’s Torah portion begins with one of the most mysterious and little-understood events recorded in the Torah. When Jacob spent the night in what he later calls Beit-El, he had a curious dream charged with spiritual import:

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:11–12)

In Jacob’s dream, he saw a ladder stretching from heaven to earth, and angels were ascending and descending on it. Although he was puzzled by this imagery, Jacob realized that it held spiritual significance and determined that he had come to a place of holiness:

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16–17)

Because of what he had seen in his dream, Jacob called the place Beth-El or the “House of God.” He declared that it was not only the House of God but also some sort of portal between heaven and earth where angels could come and go from one realm to the other. From this, we can see the importance of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. While it stood, the “House of God” functioned as the “gate of heaven” connecting heaven and earth.

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