Vayetze: Building Houses out of Words

 This weeks parsha is built upon the theme of House. After all, it is within this parsha that Jacob builds his home – replete with 4 wives, 12 children and a vast caravan of animals and servants. And then of course there is his astounding dream of the ladder ascending to heaven. He awakens from that revelation and names the place no less than Beit El, the House of God. The Midrash claims that the site of his dream is the locale of the future Temple – later to be called the Beit Hamikdash, again the ''house'' of holiness.1



What does it mean that God’s place on earth is refered to as a house?


We turn to the oldest Kabbalistic work, the Sefer Yetzirah. It reads enigmatically:


“Two stones build two houses; three stones build six houses; four stones build twenty-four houses; five stones build one-hundred-and-twenty houses; six stones build 720 houses...(and on and on until) that which the mouth cannot speak and the ear cannot hear.”



What are these mystical mathematics all about? In the code of the Kabbalists, stones are letters and houses are words. Two stone letters thus can build 2 word houses; six letters can make 720 words. Each letter permutation becomes a house – for a house is essentially, a container which holds meaning.


Let''s turn back to Jacob’s story with this stone/house imagery in mind. In a curious grammatical shift from plural to singular, we read that Jacob took stones as his pillow and when he awoke in the morning there was but a single stone. He anointed the stone with oil and named the place the House of God. When we read this with the Kabbalistic imagery of stones building houses it makes perfect symbolic sense that he would call the place the House of God – the multiple stones had miraculously became a single house. Just as disparate letters come together as one comprehensive word. Through the act of placing one''s head – or one''s intellect or consciousness, upon stone letters, they came together to form a house/a word, a cohesive vessel of meaning2

. This is the divine gift of speech. We bring letters together to form words which somehow, almost magically, communicate meaning. And in this act is something divine. Words become the very house for God in the world.


But the Midrash adds another layer of meaning to this. They tell us that there were twelve stones, representing each of his sons. In the course of the night, these disparate stone/sons were merged into a single stone – representing a complete, unified, household.3

A divine sign that Jacob would indeed succeed in bringing together his fractured household into a completed whole.



And thus the lynchpin that unites all of these images of mystical mathematics and linguistic wonders. For it''s when we are building our houses, our relationships of deepest meaning, that our every letter, our every word counts. It is the way we construct our words, the way we communicate, that builds, or wrecks, the fragile house of cards of our most intimate relationships. In Hebrew the root letters for children (banim) and for building (boneh) are identical. We build our children by how we speak to them. What''s more - our words, chosen consciously, can house God.



Jacob''s journey can thus be seen as a model for our own home-making. This week we are invited to look at how were using our speech to contruct our lives. How do we speak to our children, our partners, our parents? How well are we housing God in the world? Our words are the building blocks that make or break the homes in which we live. May we chose them with care.



 Twelve Stone



The path was punctured


through with pebbles


which Jacob pocketed


as he passed


  and come the darkness


laid upon them


for a pillow at his back



The twelve tone stones


forged through their skin


and sucked the distance


kin to kin


- a monolithic act



Each pebble personed


a perfect letter


smoothed together into word



Jacob with his head upon them


– heard harmony


and understood



A conscious


mansion worth


of meaning


sprouted fast


from speaking stones



Skipped his pebbles


''pon his breathing


built a sentence


worth of home



And now we follow in his footsteps


dream upon that hallowed ground


unify the rips & fractures


with our lips


in rites of sound



Each conversation


is our Temple


here, between our biting teeth


let us build it


strong and simple


with the words we speak



(as opposed to Abraham who called it a mountain, and Isaac a field) B. Pesahim 88a


Note that 12 stones can produce 47,900,160 words!

3Bereshit Rabbah 68:13