Parshat Vayetzei: Ha-makom & Holy Places

What makes a place holy? A look at the word “ha-makom” (the place) in Torah provides some perspective.

The word ha-makom is repeated throughout the beginning of parshat Vayetze. On Yacov’s journey from Be’ersheva to Haran: “He came upon that place (ba-makom)…” What is that place? Rashi identifies it with the unnamed place in the akedah story: Abraham “looked up and saw the place (ha-makom) from afar,” which was in the land of Moriah. Both avot experience revelation from God there. The beit hamikdash is also referred to as ha-makom in Tanach. Hence, the midrash associates “the place” with Mt. Moriah, in Jerusalem, where the Temple was built. 

However, Yacov called this place Beit-El, formerly called Luz, seemingly not in Jerusalem. Rashbam says it was a place just outside of Luz. Rashi reinforces the interpretation that the place was Mt. Moriah/Jerusalem and suggests several solutions: 1) Yacov’s famous ladder between heaven and earth extended from Be’ersheva to Beit-El and the middle of the slope was opposite Jerusalem. 2) Yacov was in Jerusalem and named it Beit-El, or 3) the ground shrunk and Mt. Moriah was miraculously transported to Luz. 

These interpretations attribute deep meaning and historical-religious significance to the holiest place in Judaism. Yacov may have been in one place, but somehow was connected or transported to “the place” – Jerusalem. Similarly, the Talmud Brachot teaches that (after the Temple was destroyed) the Shekhina resides in a Beit Knesset or wherever people congregate to pray, carry out justice or learn Torah, as God will come and bless us in “all the places where I cause My Name to be mentioned.”

Ha-Makom is also one of the names of God in rabbinic literature. When we study Torah, do justice, and pray facing Jerusalem, we too are drawing on the holiness of Ha-makom and imbuing our spaces and places with holiness. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson 

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