Vayishlach—Memorial Stone

Jacob set up a pillar in the place where [God] had spoken with  him, a pillar of stone; and he poured out a drink offering  on it, and poured oil on it.  . . . . [A few verses later, after the death of Rachel] Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.  (Gen 35:14, 20)

A “pillar” (matzebah) is a large sacred stone.   Jacob sets up several of these weighty memorials along his way.   These matzebot are part of the landscape of religion in ancient Canaan.  Millenia later, in the same land, Rav Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Palestine, later Israel, made the following comment.

“While the patriarchs erected pillars for worship, this was later forbidden and gave way to altars at which cultic rites were to be performed. Why? Pillars were symbols of generalized faith; altars were symbols of faith plus mitzvahs that is, Judaism.”

 

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