Israel: “God’s Home & Heaven’s Gate”
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Jacob left Beersheva, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the heaven, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the LORD was standing over it and He said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. And behold, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is present in this place, and I did not know it!
And he was full of fear, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.” Early in the morning, Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He named that site Bethel, “House of God” (Gen. 28:10-19).
Gods first words to Jacob in this dream were regarding the land. What is so vital about a land?
God originally promised Israel to Abraham. Abraham was the first monotheist and God's will was that Abraham and his seed spread this monotheism to the world and dispel the rampant idolatry. God cares for all of his creatures equally. His creation of every human being displays His concern that every person attains their goal to become an intelligent person who pursues His wisdom. Land enables the Jews to practice Torah without alien societal influence or oppression, with the goal of impressing mankind with monotheism: “All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.”
When associating with alien cultures the Jews became corrupt. After the passing of the 12 sons of Jacob, living in Egypt, the Jews accepted Egyptian idolatry and their superstitions. This sin of idolatry earned the Jews 210 years of Egyptian bondage. It was only through the Jews’ repudiation of the Egyptian lamb God by slaughter that they were saved on Passover, after God orchestrated the 10 plagues and the Egyptian exodus. The land of Israel intends to incubate the Jewish nation from such corrupt notions, fostering a unified life of Torah.
From Rebecca’s receipt of a prophecy, Jacob learned that God desired him to rule over his older twin Esav. Esav the hunter—a man of hedonism, murder and idolatry—was unfit to continue Abraham’s legacy of monotheism. Isaac gave Jacob the Blessings of Abraham. As Jacob was the tent dweller—the man who pursued God’s wisdom—God promised Jacob that Israel upon which he slept would function as the haven for monotheism to flourish. A country which was identified exclusively with monotheists, starting with Abraham to whom God first promised Israel.
Israel: God’s Home
God determined Israel become the land of the monotheists. This is the meaning of “God’s Home.” God’s house is not for Him, but for His fame, that a land and a people are recognized by the world as those who reject all imaginary deities and follow God, intellect and reason.
Jacob fled from his brother Esav who sought his life for taking the birthright. Jacob arrived at a place where he slept. After Jacob awoke from his dream of the ladder with ascending and descending angels, he said:, “How awesome is this place. This is no other than the House of God, and this is the gate to heaven. And he called the name of that place Beth El (God’s House)…” Jacob recognized this place of Israel would now be special. What is the relationship between God’s home and heaven’s gate?
“Heaven’s Gate” refers to a “special access,” something closely tied to heaven, to God’s providence over man and the universe. Heaven is not a location; God is not in the sky. Heaven is a name given to God’s world from which He created the universe and controls it and man’s affairs. Heaven is the metaphysical world in which angels fulfill their control over natural law. “Many” angels represent the many spheres of law governing the universe. Jacob saw many angels as God instructed the angels to guard Jacob in many areas of need, such as heath, success, protection and knowledge. Perhaps this visual dream intended to calm Jacob’s fear, as he had fled from his brother’s threat or murder. Jacob knew from Abraham the abstract promise of the land, but this vision made it tangible, relating to him at this time. Rashi says that after this dream, Jacob found his travels very easy, he was relieved. God provided Jacob much needed comfort and security. Learning that God was relating to him at this place, the land of Israel, Jacob was astonished. God’s very prophecy here taught Jacob that Israel is a special land of God’s providence, the “gate of heaven.” Torah too says, “God’s eyes are upon the land from the beginning of the year to the year’s end” (Deut. 11:12). This is the meaning of “God’s Home and Heaven’s Gate.” Israel will function as a haven for Torah practice and it will reflect a special providence that teaches the world that those who follow God earn His protection.
“A ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the heaven, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the LORD was standing over it.” Ibn Ezra teaches that a ladder conveys a relationship: “Matters on Earth are governed from heaven as if there is a ladder between them” (Gen. 28:12). That is, God’s metaphysical will controls natural law on Earth. Jacob should be less fearful of natural law and people, and more confident that God guides all. “God standing over the top of the ladder” teaches this.