Midreshet Amit


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Stones, Unity and Responsibility

By: Samantha Bryk

In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayeitzei, Yaakov takes "from the rocks of the place." Rav Yehuda teaches in a Medrash that Yaakov takes 12 stones, symbolic of Hashem’s decree that the Jewish people would be founded based on a family consisting of 12 Tribes. In the morning, when Yaakov sees that the 12 stones have indeed merged into one, he knows that he will be the progenitor of a single nation emerging from a family of 12 sons.

Rav Simcha Schepps, z"l, asks a question on this incident. It would have been more logical if one stone turned into 12 stones in the morning, signifying how the nation would become a huge family from the one, Yaakov. Yaakov's symbolism seems counter-intuitive. Twelve stones joining to form one stone appears to symbolize just the reverse of the sign he was looking for.

Rav Simcha Schepps answers his question by citing a second Medrash. When God told Avraham, "I will make you into a great nation" (Bereishit 12:2), Avraham asked Him (according to the Medrash) "but you already have 70 nations who are descended from Noach.  What will be so special about another nation?" Hashem answered Avraham, "The nation that will descend from you is the nation about whom it will be said, ‘For which is such a great nation?’ (ki mi goy gadol - Devarim 4:7); that is the nation that will emerge from you."

What is the meaning of "goy gadol" (literally “a big nation”)? The biggest "goy gadol" in the world today is the Chinese, with 2 billion people. There are more Chinese in the world than any other people. The second largest nationality is the Indians, with 1 billion people.  In contrast, there are only approximately 12 million Jews in the world. Never have we ever been the "goy gadol." So what is the interpretation of the Medrash? What is the nature of this peculiar dialogue between Avraham and Hashem?

The answer is that there is a special connotation to the word "gadol". "Gadol" does not mean 'big' as in numerically large. Rav Dessler points out that the interpretation of "gadol" is revealed to us by its first appearance in the Torah.  In Bereishit 1:16, it says, "et ha’maor ha’gadol" (the great light, referring to the sun). "Gadol" means the ability to give to others. The sun is not called "gadol" because it is so big, but rather because it provides light and heat for the entire universe.  The technical definition of "gadol" is the capacity to do for others, to help others, to be concerned about others. When we talk about an "Adam Gadol" (a person who is gadol), we are not speaking about appearance or about someone who knows the entire Torah. Every Adam Gadol who we can think of was a person that was always concerned about the community. That is the definition of a Gadol.

There are plenty of nations in the world, many of them more numerous than the Jews. However, Hashem promised Avraham that he would make him into a nation that is "gadol," meaning a nation of people that care about others and have the capacity to give.

So too Yaakov Avinu takes 12 stones which turn into one, symbolizing a nation that has unity within themselves. We learn from this that the Jewish nation might not be the biggest nation but we are a nation that gives to others. We need to be nice to our friends, family and every human being.  Our nation was made to help others and make the world a better place.  We need to focus on being the best we can be and how we can help others be the best they can be.  We must be there for our friends and give as much as we can to all those in need. We have to reflect on our behaviors and see how we can each truly be an Adam Gadol so that together, we can truly be the Goy Gadol that Hashem promised Avraham!