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The significance of Jacob’s headstones

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In this week’s Torah portion, we read that Jacob journeyed to his mother’s family in Haran while on the run from his murderous brother Esau. As night approached, he stopped for a rest. Before going to sleep, he gathered some stones and arranged them around his head. The Biblical commentator Rashi explains, “He arranged them like a gutter pipe around his head because he feared wild beasts.”

Other commentaries ask the question that if Jacob wanted to protect himself through natural means rather than relying on a miracle, why did he erect the stone barrier only around his head? On the other hand, if the reason he didn’t build a blockade around the rest of his body was because he trusted that G-d would protect him, why did he take extra measures to guard his head?

Clearly, Jacob placing the stones around his head to keep away intruders must hold deeper significance.

Jacob was about to enter a new stage of life. Until now, the Torah tells us, Jacob was, “an innocent man who dwelled in tents”, a reference to his extended studies in the “tents of Shem and Ever”, the centres of Torah study at that time. Now, on the cusp of marriage, Jacob would be entering the workforce, living in Haran, and working with the sly Laban. He realised that the journey to Haran alone already exposed him to “wild animals”, an allusion to the spiritual dangers that even the lead-up to his impending transition could pose. At this critical point, says the Torah, Jacob protected his head.

In doing so, Jacob demonstrated that to ensure our commitment to Torah values, even when we are absorbed in earning a living, our heads must be guarded. In the words of King David in Psalms, “If you eat from the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is good for you.” Invest and preoccupy only your hands – your physical energy – in your toil and labour; save your head and heart for the study of Torah and for passionate prayer.

As long as we keep our head safe, taught Jacob, and reserve our higher faculties for our relationship with G-d, then our integrity and sense of direction will stay secure even when our body goes to work.

Often it’s difficult to make the time in our heads and hearts to build that spiritual protection and connection, especially with everything going on in today’s world. We can use the opportunity of the upcoming December holidays to take some time out, re-think, and strengthen our connection with G-d.

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