The first word is the name of this Torah portion – וַיֵּצֵ֥א -vayetze. The root is (יצא) and means ‘to go out’ or ‘to come out’. The same root is in the ha-Motzi prayer (המוציא) – the blessing over the bread. In this prayer, God is He who “takes out bread from the earth”.
It is very interesting that this Torah portion is bounded by two major events concerning stones and has a third event in the middle – for a total of three events involving stones! In verse 11, Jacob “took of the stones of that place” where he had stopped for the night. The Hebrew word for stone is אבן – (eh-ven). He made pillows of these stones. In verse 12 he dreamed the famous dream about the ladder extending from earth to heaven with angels going up and down it. God Himself stood at the top of the ladder and again made a covenant with Jacob concerning the land and Jacob’s offspring. In Gen. 28:17, we see that Jacob gives this spot two names: the house of God – בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֔ים – Beit Elohim. In verse 19, it is shortened to בֵּֽית־אֵ֑ל – Beit El or Bethel. The word El is a shortened form of Elohim.
Jacob also calls the spot, “the gate of heaven” – שַׁ֥עַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם – Sha-ar HaShamaim. The phrase means a door, portal or access point between the physical world of the earth and the spiritual realm of God in Heaven. God stands at the top of the ladder – ie, He is in control of all access between the two worlds! No one goes from earth to heaven, or from heaven to earth, without His permission!
God goes on to affirm that the earth itself belongs to Him and He gives it to whom He will. Psalm 24:1 states, “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof.” God re-affirms the covenant concerning the Land of Israel that He originally made with Abram (Gen. 13) and confirmed with Isaac (Gen. 26:24) – and now to Jacob. Note also that God is ultimately the one taking Jacob out of the land for a time, and God promises to take Jacob back to the land in the future. As often happens, this event foreshadowed what would later happen to the children of Jacob (ie, Israel) and the times God would allow them to be removed from their land. And yet, He always caused them to return because of this covenant! Indeed, some scholar’s think that is the meaning in Psalm 121:8, “The LORD shall preserve thy going out [of the land] and thy coming in [returning to the land] from this time forth, and even for evermore.” In other words, God is in charge of the land of Israel and governs who lives there! Not the UN or the USA or any other nation, but God Himself. And God has made it pretty clear in His Word who He has given this land to! The descendents of Abraham through Isaac and through Jacob – the Jewish people! What God gives, no one on earth can take away.
At the end of this Torah portion (the end of Gen. 31), we see Jacob again takes a stone (eh-ven) and again sets it up for a pillar. This time, it is a boundary stone if you will. A reminder, both to Laban and to Jacob. Laban is not to cross the boundary to harm Jacob. And Jacob is never to return to Haran. The Hebrew word used, מִּצְפָּה֙, Mizpah, literally means a watchtower or a lookout point (according to the Theological Workbook of the OT). The third time the stone occurs in this Torah portion is in Gen. 29:3 referring to the stone covering the well where Rachel watered her father’s flock. Large stones were kept over open wells’ to keep the water supply pure. This kept anything from falling into the well and poisoning the water supply. The stone ensured the water was pure.
The stones are very evident in this Torah portion and taken together, they teach a great lesson. The first stone and last mention of a stone, eh-ven, act as bookends to the portion and deal with securing the boundaries of the land. The first, at Bethel, reminds the reader of the covenant that God is reaffirming with Jacob and his descendents, the Jewish people, concerning the land of Israel. God has the authority to give the land to the people of Israel. Then at Mizpah, God guards the border from those who would take it away. Sandwiched in between is the stone protecting the well of water – a most precious resource in a desert land. It reminds the reader that God provided the necessary resources for those in the land, and protects those resources. The lessons of these stones teaches us important lessons about God’s relationship with Israel and the land. He is in charge and He gives the land, watches over it and protects its resources for the children of Israel. I will close with Moses’ words: “A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. ” – Deut. 11:12