Talmud Tips

For the week ending 12 June 2021 / 2 Tamuz 5781

Korach: Yoma 51 - 57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Pillow-Pillar of Creation

“Why was this stone called ‘even shetia?’ Because it was from this stone that the world was founded during Creation.” (“Shetia” is Hebrew for “foundation”.)

This teaching on our daf refers back to the term “even shetia” that was mentioned in the mishna on the previous daf. Prior to the destruction of the First Beit Hamikdash, as part of the Yom Kippur service the Kohen Gadol would place special incense on the Aron HaBrit — the Holy Ark of the Covenant — in the Holy of Holies. However, the Aron HaBrit was not present in the Second Beit Hamikdash. The mishna teaches that in the absence of the Aron HaBrit, the incense was instead placed on the even shetia, which, as our gemara explains, was the stone from which the world was founded during Creation.In English, this stone is therefore familiarly referred to as “the foundation stone.”

The basis for this concept of a foundation stone for Creation is a section in Tehillim. (50:1-2) “Hashem spoke and called to the earth, from the rising of the sun until its setting. From Tzion, the finery of beauty, Hashem appeared.” Chazal teach that we see here that Hashem called to the earth to initiate Creation. And that Tzion — “the perfection of beauty” — was the place of the foundation of Creation.

A fascinating observation about this foundation stone is made by one of the great Torah commentaries, Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer HaLevi Eidels (1555-1631) — often referred to as “the Maharsha.” Granted, this source in Tehillim is cited in our sugya to show that Tzion was the foundation-place of Creation. However, he notes, we do not find anywhere in the Tanach, the mishna or the gemara any specific mention of the place of foundation being astone! What, therefore, is the source that Creation began with a stone?

The Maharsha answers this question by citing a midrash that speaks about a very special stone that Yaakov Avinu used in the service of Hashem.

When Yitzchak Avinu grew advanced in age and failing in health, he endowed his son Yaakov with an especially beautiful and prophetic blessing: “Nations will serve you and kingdoms will bow down to you. You will be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons will bow down to you. Those who curse you will be cursed, and those who bless you will be blessed.” (Ber. 27:29) And when his mother feared that Yaakov’s brother that Esav would kill Yaakov for receiving the blessing that Esav felt should have rightfully been his, she sent Yaakov away to the home of her brother Lavan in Charan until Esav’s wrath subsided.

Rivka passionately told Yitzchak that she wanted their son Yaakov not to find a wife locally since the neighboring people were totally inappropriate for Yaakov. Rather, he needs to travel elsewhere in order to find a wife who would be a “kosher soulmate” for him. As a result, Yitzchak called Yaakov and said to him, “You will not take a wife of the (local) daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Betuel, your mother's father, and find a wife there from the daughters of Lavan, your mother's brother. And may the Almighty G-d bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and you will become an assembly of peoples. And may He give you the blessing of Avraham, to you and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land of your travels, which Hashem gave to Avraham.” (Ber. 28:1-4)

After receiving his father’s blessings, Yaakov began his travel. But before he departed the Land of Israel, he stopped along the way at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for fourteen years. The commentators explain that this “interlude” was meant not only to increase his Torah knowledge in general, but, in particular, to prepare him for the unique challenges he was likely to face as a result of being in the Diaspora and no longer in the holy Land of Israel.

After these fourteen years in yeshiva, Yaakov Avinu continued his travel to find a wife. Just before he left the Land of Israel, he stopped for a night in a place called Luz, took stones from there, placed the stones under his head and slept. Our Sages teach that “only in that place did he lie down (albeit with the ground for a bed and rocks for a pillow), but during the fourteen years he learned Torah in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, he did not lie down for even one night because he was engaged in Torah study.” (Ber. Rabbah 68:11)

When he woke up the next morning, he saw that Hashem had miraculously caused the stones to become united into one single stone. Yaakov Avinu took this special stone and declared, “Indeed, Hashem is in this place, and I did not know it… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of Hashem, and this is the gate of Heaven.” (Ber. 28:16:17) Rashi explains that at that particular time, Hashem miraculously moved Mount Moriah, the future site of the Beit Hamikdash, to the same place where Luz was located.

Yaakov Avinu proceeded to take this stone, set it up as a pillar and then used it in his tendering a libation offering to Hashem. He prophetically announced, “And this stone will be a House for Hashem.” (Ber. 28:22)

The midrash concludes that this same stone was none other than the stone where the world began. And the location of this foundation stone would so fittingly be the site of the Beit Hamikdash, the ultimate place to fulfill the purpose of Creation of drawing close to Hashem.

  • Yoma 54b

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