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There are several allusions in the Torah that through divine inspiration the Patriarchs kept it entirely (see Yoma 28b based on Bereishit 26:5 for Abraham and Rashi on Bereishit 32:5 for Jacob). Yet, we see in Bereishit 35:14 that Jacob set up a pillar (מצבה) as a commemoration:

וַיַּצֵּ֨ב יַֽעֲקֹ֜ב מַצֵּבָ֗ה בַּמָּק֛וֹם אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר אִתּ֖וֹ מַצֶּ֣בֶת אָ֑בֶן וַיַּסֵּ֤ךְ עָלֶ֨יהָ֙ נֶ֔סֶךְ וַיִּצֹ֥ק עָלֶ֖יהָ שָֽׁמֶן׃

And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink-offering thereon, and poured oil thereon.

Rashi's commentary on the verse is rather misterious ("I do not know what this teaches us."), and doesn't discuss how is it possible that we read in Devarim 16:22:

וְלֹֽא־תָקִ֥ים לְךָ֖ מַצֵּבָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׂנֵ֖א יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

Neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar, which Hashem thy God hateth.

How is it possible to reconcile the two verses?

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    If you read the Siftei Chachamim to Rashi on Bereshit 35:14, you will see that Rashi is not discussing with that comment, the pillar at all. He is pointing out what you notice. The words, ‘where He spoke with him’ are redundant, meaning extra words, that are pointing to Avraham & Yitzchok & the covenant made there. Rashi says he doesn’t know what is being taught in connection with that reference. May 25, 2020 at 12:57
  • I think the pillars that G-d allowed Moses to build was before G-d outlawed pillar dealing with idolatry.
    – Turk Hill
    May 28, 2020 at 0:29

3 Answers 3

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Rashi to Devarim 16:22 explains that although stone pillars used to be acceptable, they were banned once they were adopted as a Canaanite practice:

מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים וּמִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה צִוָּה לַעֲשׂוֹת, וְאֶת זוֹ שָׂנֵא, כִּי חֹק הָיְתָה לַכְּנַעֲנִיִּים, וְאַעַ"פִּ שֶׁהָיְתָה אֲהוּבָה לוֹ בִּימֵי הָאָבוֹת, עַכְשָׁיו שְׂנֵאָהּ מֵאַחַר שֶׁעֲשָׂאוּהָ אֵלּוּ חֹק לַעֲבוֹדָה זָרָה

An altar of stones and an altar of earth He has commanded you to make; this, however, He hates, because it was a religious ordinance amongst the Canaanites. And although it was pleasing to Him in the days of our Patriarchs (cf. Genesis 28:18), now He hates it because these (Canaanites) made it an ordinance of an idolatrous character.

(Silbermann translation courtesy of sefaria.org)

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    What you have written is exactly correct in terms of halacha, but doesn’t answer the question from the OP. He knows & acknowledges what you’re saying but asks how to resolve this with the idea that the Avot kept all the mitzvot before they were commanded. Dec 23, 2019 at 8:36
  • @AlaychemRememberMonica where is this list, and who says not to take it literally? For al the mitzvos I am aware of which seem to question the gemara's principle, the commentators all discuss just exactly what happened.
    – Binyomin
    May 21, 2020 at 7:54
  • I initially voted for this answer, but then I realized that @YaakovDeane is right and this answer doesn't specifically address the OP' question. Quoting the rashi is not enough to explain why it's not a contradiction; at the end of the day, the torah prohibited it so how could the avos have used it?
    – Binyomin
    May 21, 2020 at 7:55
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    @Binyomin I think Rashi's point is that this mitzvah specifically only kicked in at this point in history. It's like asking "how could the Avot sacrifice outside the Beit Hamikdash?" This is different to other, timeless mitzvot which (some of) Chazal (seem to) assume the Avot did keep.
    – Joel K
    May 21, 2020 at 8:07
  • On all of those cases the commentators explain why it wasn't a problem. Chiefly, the avos kept the torah only in Israel (for the sisters), which wouldn't apply here; Avraham first gave butter and then meat, which isn't a problem; the hunted meat was procured by shechting via arrow; Yaakov was technically the older son (that's why Rashi explains that the last one out was the first one in), etc. All these questions are addressed, and dealt with, by the mefarshim (the above answers are obviously only some of the given explanations.) We don't just say that the gemara isn't literal.
    – Binyomin
    May 21, 2020 at 8:07
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As mentioned in Joel K's answer (rashi to devarim 16:22) a matzevah only became prohibited after the canaanites worshipped on it.

But during the time of the Avos, the matzevah was still beloved.

Thus, during the time of the Avos, there was no prohibition of using a matzevah, and thus Yaakov didn't violate anything.

My source for this answer is a concept used to explain Avraham Avinu's delay is fulfilling mitzvas Bris milah. If Avraham kept all the mitzvos, why didn't he already do a bris early on? Why did he wait until he was 99?

One answer given (I believe by the Brisker Rav, Rav. Y.Z Soleveitchik in his sefer on chumash, but I can't find the sefer now) is that bris milah is not just an action; it's a covenant between the person and Hashem.

Until Hashem commanded to enter the covenant, there simply was no mitzvah. So Avraham wasn't "not fulfilling" the mitzvah, there was no mitzvah to fulfill! (See also here for a slightly different "teich" of this concept, but it still is applicable.)

This is the same with Yaakov. Until the torah prohibited it, it wasn't a violation of the Torah.

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  • Ok, but using your logic they haven't been commanded almost any of the mitzvot, so what does it mean that they kept all of them by intuition? Kosher animals? Or what? May 21, 2020 at 8:31
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    @Kazibácsi Jewish tradition teaches that the Torah predated the world, and the Torah is fact the blueprint of the world. An kosher animal was kosher before the torah was given (Noach took 2 vs 7; he knew the difference). The giving of the torah affected our souls' sensitivity to the mitzvos. There are rare mitzvos, like bris and matzeva, where the nature of the mitzva changed. (I understand it that a matzeva is a way a person comes close to Hashem; that way was corrupted by idolatrous use, so after the corruption that way is not valid since your service so to speak also becomes "corrupted".)
    – Binyomin
    May 21, 2020 at 8:39
  • I can't see where you add something on top of Joel's answer. May 21, 2020 at 10:10
  • @AlaychemRememberMonica I feel Joel's answer wasn't complete. He only quoted Rashi- in the times of the avos it was beloved and later it was hated. But that doesn't fully answer the question- at the end of the day there's a mitzvah not to use it, so how does it help?! I answered that part by suggesting that since it only became hated later on, there was no mitzvah at the time of Yaakov and thus no violation. And I brought a proof to the concept (of mitzvos developing later for the avos) by bringing a parallel to Avraham and bris milah.
    – Binyomin
    May 21, 2020 at 15:21
  • IMHO bashing Joel's answer at comments section and then coping that said answer with some addition is a bad form. May 23, 2020 at 22:16
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In the context of the preceding posukim, Bereshit 35:10-12, this angel confirms the elevation of the status of Yaacov Avinu to Yisrael, like was mentioned in connection with the other angel (the Angel of Death) with whom he wrestled in Bereshit 32:29.

Additionally, he is told that G-d has decided that he and his descendants will be the inheritors of the blessing given to Avraham Avinu and Yitzchok Avinu, namely of the land.

And this is in fact, what Rashi points to and what the Siftei Chachamim to Rashi on Bereshit 35:14 clarify. Rashi is not discussing with his comment, "I do not know what this teaches us.", the pillar at all. He is pointing out that the words, ‘where He spoke with him’ are redundant, meaning extra words, that are pointing to Avraham & Yitzchok & the covenant made there. The exact same expression "בַּמָּק֛וֹם אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר אִתּ֖וֹ" appears in the preceding posuk, Bereshit 35:13. Rashi is saying that he has no tradition about what this redundant reference is teaching aside from that it is pointing to Avraham and Yitzchok.

This blessing of possessing the land was accomplished by Avraham and Yitzchok through the Akeida, which was a type of spiritual service that involved subjugating the Angel of Death via the ram that was sacrificed.

This paradigm, which was established at the Akeida, is what is being done via a type of prayer by Yisrael Avinu in Bereshit 35:10.

The word matzevah (מצבה) comes from the root יצב, which has a connotation of a type of prayer as referenced by Jastrow on the root quoting Pesikta Rabbati which is referencing Mishlei 22:29. (See also Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:1:1 and Shemot Rabbah 11:1)

The stone mentioned here is referring to a letter being removed from the name of the Angel of Death. The letters of the Aleph-Beit are called stones in Sefer Yetzirah (4:16 Gra edition) which tradition teaches was given to us via Avraham Avinu.

This removal of that single letter (the letter Mem, מ) from the name of the Angel of Death converts the severity (harsh judgement אלהים) associated with the Angel of Death into softened judgement (אכדטם). This type of letter transformation, converting the letters to the letter preceding it in alphabetical order, is the transformation associated with Avraham Avinu.

So for example, when you see יהוה in the Amidah prayer connected to Avraham Avinu (Elohei Avraham), you intend טדהד. The transformation associated with Yitzchok Avinu is the opposite, meaning letters transform into the letter following it in alphabetical order. So יהוה becomes כוזו. The transformation for Yaacov Avinu, Yisrael, is the At-Bash. So יהוה becomes מצפץ.

This removal of that single letter from the name of the Angel of Death also converts the name of the Angel of Death into one of the 3 letter triplets (ס״אל) from G-d's 72 triplet-letter name (It contains 72, three letter roots for a total of 216 letters.) That particular triplet is associated with G-d's Kingship like is explained by Rabbi Yaacov Tzvi Yolles in Sefer Kehillat Yaacov. This concept is also referenced in the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov in Sefer Keter Shem Tov. It's also worth noting that if you apply the letter transformation of Yaacov Avinu, meaning the At-Bash, to the three letters remaining from the Angel of Deaath's name, the result is the Angelic name referenced in the Talmud for the posuk from Ashrei that is associated with our daily parnussa (Tehillim 145:16).

The harsh judgement is characterized by the red wine being poured out on the stone (Red being associated with Gevurah/Severity.). And the conversion to softened judgement is alluded to via the oil which follows.

Shemen (שמן) is referring to (שם-נו״ן), that G-d's 6 letter name which is the union of אהיה and יהוה (these two names have a gematria sum of 50 when including the two names and kollel). But their union (אהיהוה) only has a gematria of 32. When including the kollel, the resulting sum is 33 (ג״ל or ל״ג, which is also the value of כד״ט from the softened judgement of אכדטם mentioned above) as in Lag b'Omer, the time between Passover and Shavuot when the decree on the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped. The harsh judgement was overturned.

And this paradigm associated to 33, meaning Gal (גל) and the overturning of harsh judgement is repeated between Yaacov and Lavan at the Gal Eid (גל עד) and also with Moshe Rabbeinu and Pinchas in connection with the spear (הרמח, the Mem is from the Angel of Death and פינחס, like יצחק is gematria 208, ר״ח) used against Zimri and Kozbi.

So what is being described in connection with Bereshit 35:14 is not a violation of the prohibition you quote from Devarim 16:22, but an affirmation of the paradigm established by Avraham Avinu at the binding of Yitzchok.

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  • This is a nice explanation of the kabalistic concepts going on behind the scenes. But how does this answer the question? Even if he was "affirm[ing] the paradigm established by Avraham Avinu" that doesn't answer the question. The torah says not to make a matzevah. With all of the holiest intentions, how could Yaakov have done it? I don't see how your answer addresses the question.
    – Binyomin
    May 21, 2020 at 8:00
  • 1
    Can I build Yaakov's type pillar at my back yard? May 21, 2020 at 8:11
  • @Binyomin The last paragraph emphasizes that the prohibition of building a physical alter is not what is being described with Yaacov Avinu. It is proper intention in prayer. That is the resolution requested in the original question. May 21, 2020 at 10:52
  • @AlaychemRememberMonica If you mean can you pray with proper intent in your backyard, yes. May 21, 2020 at 10:54
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    @YaacovDeane So Yaakov didn't build a physical pillar at all? If that's so, what does Rashi in Devarim mean by saying that pillars used to be beloved to Hashem but no longer are?
    – Joel K
    May 21, 2020 at 11:09

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