Jacob’s Celestial Dream

The beginning of our parsha relates how Jacob fled the wrath of his brother and travelled towards Charan. On the way there, he fell asleep and dreamt of a ladder situated on the earth and reaching into the heavens, with angels going up and down the ladder. In his dream, G‑d promises him and his descendants the land upon which he was lying. He also promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and that the entire world will be blessed through Jacob and his descendants.

When Jacob awakens he realizes that this was no ordinary place, and exclaims:

“G‑d is truly in this place and I didn’t’ realize it. …How awesome this place is! This is none other than the house of G‑d. This is the gate of heaven.”

The Torah then relates:

“Jacob arose in the morning. He took the stone that he had placed at his head, set it up as a monument, and poured oil on top of it. He named the place Beis-E-l, but Luz was originally the name of the city.”

Our Sages identify the place of this vision as none other than the Temple Mount, the eventual site of the Beis Hamikdash. It was also the place Abraham brought Isaac for the Akeidah and the location of Isaac’s prayer when he met Rebecca.

The Luz Bone and Jerusalem

However, the one enigmatic detail here is the identification of this place by the name Luz. Why was it important to emphasize that this place was once called Luz? How does that contribute to the story and our understanding of the effect this experience had on Jacob and on his progeny, the Jewish people.

Rabenu Bachya, a 14th century commentator, explains that the name Luz is an allusion to the Talmudic tradition concerning the future Resurrection of the Dead. One of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is the belief that in the Messianic Age, the souls of the dead will return to their reconstituted bodies. This miracle will happen in a somewhat “natural” fashion. The Talmud states that there is one tiny bone in the body that is indestructible. It cannot be destroyed even by fire. It is from this bone that G‑d will reconstruct the entire body. This bone is called the Luz bone.

Just as the Luz bone is the nucleus of a new existence, Rabenu Bachya writes, so too Jerusalem is where all of existence started. King David expresses the centrality of Jerusalem as the starting point of the world in his Psalms (50:1-2): “O G‑d Almighty, G‑d speaks, and calls to the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. G‑d appears out of Zion, the perfection of beauty.” Rabenu Bachya interprets this to mean that all of existence (“the earth from the rising sun to its setting”) came forth from Zion, which refers to Jerusalem and the Bais Hamikdash.

In other words, referring to Jerusalem as Luz reveals to us the secret of Jerusalem as an eternal city.   Just as the Luz bone is indestructible and will provide the nucleus of new life in the Messianic Age, Jerusalem is an eternal city (and so too are the Jewish people an eternal people).

Hence, when Jacob comes to the Temple Mount in the center of Jerusalem – where G‑d reveals himself to him and  promises him and his progeny the inheritance of the Land of Israel – G -d alludes to the indestructibility of the his people and the eternal character of the land they will inherit, particularly, Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.

Although the Temple was destroyed, it will be replaced by a permanent structure. So too the Jewish people will return from long exile to their homeland forever.

The awesome power of all this is hinted at in the name Luz, the indestructible bone from which renewed existence will take place.


Not a Real Change

By saying that Luz was the original name of the city, the Torah wants to impress upon us what we may consider to be counterintuitive: the power of immortality was the original state of the world. Death and destruction were a superimposition on the natural and intrinsic status of existence. In the end, death will be removed forever, and eternal life will be reinstated. This leads us to the radical conclusion that, even now, death is an aberration.

To illustrate this point, the Rebbe cites the law that if a thief steals furniture and alters it, he is not required to return the piece, but rather pay its value. If, however the change can be reversed it is not considered an actual change and he is required to return the object. The Talmud coins the phrase: “A change that can revert to its original status is not a change.”

The same is true about the reversal of eternal life. Since it will be reversed in the future it is not a true change.

The existence of the Luz bone reinforces the notion that we possess an indestructible power at the core of our existence. 


“Jacob Never Died”

We can now begin to understand what the Talmud (Ta’anis 5) means when it says that Jacob never died. Jacob represents immortality more than any other righteous person although it can be said of all righteous people that their soul and legacy live on. But Jacob was unique in that his not dying is a physical fact. According to Rashi’s commentary, even Jacob’s body is alive. He was buried only because his contemporaries thought he had died.

Jacob was unique in this regard because he had the exclusive responsibility of establishing the Jewish nation. He had to insure that the Jewish nation would acquire the power of immortality, so as their progenitor he too had to possess this power. It may be suggested that he received this power from his nocturnal experience at the site of the “original city Luz,” the city of eternal life.


The 19th Blessing

When the Talmud discusses the important Amidah prayer (which originally consisted of 18 blessings and therefore called Shemoneh Esrei-18), it states that the blessings correspond to the 18 vertebrae of the spine. [Commentators have reconciled modern anatomy with the Talmudic tradition of 18 vertebrae]. The Talmud then asks what about the 19th blessing, added later to ask G‑d for the destruction of informers and other evil people. What does that 19th blessing correlate with?

The Talmud answers that it corresponds to “the small vertebra of the spine.” This small vertebra, the 11th century Aruch states, is the Luz bone.

We can understand the connection between the Luz bone and the city of Jerusalem. Both symbolize eternal life. But how does the indestructible Luz bone relate to the blessing in which we ask G‑d to punish the wicked?

To answer this question it is necessary to understand what distinguishes the Luz bone from all the other parts of the human anatomy that are subject to death and decomposition. The Midrash teaches us that the Luz bone was the only part of Adam’s anatomy that did not benefit from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Hence the curse of death has plagued humanity as a result of Adam’s transgression did not apply to the Luz bone.

Underlying the above thought is the belief that not only is the soul pure and holy but also the human body possesses an incorruptible core.

When the original Amidah prayer was composed, it had, as stated, 18 blessings. The number 18, of course, is the gematria value of chai-life. These blessings were requests for G‑d’s support in all matters of life. When, however, society degenerated and evil influences were threatening the very life of Judaism and the Jewish people, the Sage Shmuel Hakatan incorporated the 19th blessing into the Amidah. While the number 18 represents the conventional form of life, 19 is the power of the indestructible, incorruptible core of the Luz, which insures purity and life even within the realm of the physical and degenerate.

As such, it has the power to neutralize the forces of negativity that threaten life associated with the 18 blessings. When that 19th prayer was inserted into the Amidah it contained the power to remove every vestige of evil left over from the Tree of Knowledge transgression, which led to a mixture of good and evil, which in turn led to death.


The 19th of Kislev: Rosh Hashanah for Eternal Life

The number 19 has assumed even greater significance in modern history. On the 19th of this month of Kislev 5559 (1798), Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (known as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad) was released from tsarist imprisonment. As a result, he was given a new lease on life.  This enabled him to continue and increase his dissemination of the teachings of Chassidus. This day has become known as the “Rosh Hashanah for Chassidus” and marks a major turning point on the road to Moshiach and Redemption.

The Ba’al Shem Tov related that he had ascended on high and asked the soul of Moshiach “when will you come?”  Moshiach’s answer was “When your fountains of knowledge will be disseminated to the farthest reaches.” The thrust towards Moshiach thus began in earnest after the 19th of Kislev of the year 1798 when the Alter Rebbe was liberated and has greatly expanded the spreading of this knowledge.

The fact that it all began on the 19th day of the month is not an accident. In light of our analysis of the 19th blessing of the Amidah and its connection to the life sustaining and evil negating Luz bone, it is reasonable to conclude that the Alter Rebbe’s release from prison dealt a major blow to the forces of evil and advanced the introduction of the eternal life dynamic.

It is no wonder the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch) stated that on the 19th of Kislev: “The light and life of our soul was given to us.”

In sum, this dynamic force is represented by the number 19; one more than 18, for it contributes immortality to the conventional understanding and experience of life.

 Moshiach Times:

 Moshiach has a certain superiority even over Moses. On the phrase at the beginning of the Torah, "and the spirit of G‑d hovered...," the Sages teach, "This alludes to the spirit of the King Moshiach." That verse continues, "...over the surface of the waters," this intimates a level higher than that of Moses, who was so called "because from the water I drew him." And that is why this exile is so prolonged - in order that this lofty state be finally attained.