Genesis 28 describes how Jacob left the home of his parents to escape the wrath of his brother. The Torah tells us that as he slept at “the place” God granted him an encouraging vision. God promised that He would give Jacob the land of Israel, that He would bless him and that He would protect him until he returns home. Upon awaking Jacob dedicates a monument to God and he makes a vow. Jacob promises that if God will protect him and sustain him that he would make this monument into a house for God.
When King David sought to build the Temple he speaks of his search as “seeking a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 132:5). The Temple itself is called “the pride of Jacob” (Psalm 47:5). There seems to be a deep connection between the Temple and Jacob’s vow. Why is it that from the three patriarchs it was Jacob that established the place of the Temple? And why was it this particular time in Jacob’s life that was appropriate for the dedication of the Temple?
This point in the history of the patriarchs must have been the most extreme time of vulnerability, helplessness and loneliness. Jacob describes his own situation with the words “but with my stick did I cross this Jordan” (Genesis 32:11). This was the time of Jacob’s deepest poverty and helplessness.
The vow that Jacob took was not simply dedicating a place. It was dedicating a frame of mind. Jacob realized that the recognition of his helplessness was the gateway to God. His promise was not merely to establish the future site for the Temple. Jacob was promising God that when he eventually builds a Temple it will be on the foundation of this complete understanding and recognition of absolute helplessness before God.
When the nation of Israel flowed to the Temple to serve God they were coming back to that place of helplessness. They returned to the recognition that we are completely and totally dependent on God and that nothing on earth can give us strength. The pride of Jacob is the ability to recognize that we possess nothing in front of God and it is from the recognition of the full weight of this truth that we can build a house for God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal