Jacob leaves his father-in-law and enters Eretz Israel to be greeted once again by the Angels of the Holy Land, as well as his estranged brother Esau. After a troubling familial encounter, Jacob has more personal trials, beginning in Shechem with the abduction and defilement of his young daughter Dina, and the punishment inflicted on the town by his sons Shimon and Levi. The action continues in Bet El, as Jacob erects an altar at the spot of his famous dream, his mother Rivka's nurse dies and is buried there, and Hashem promises Jacob once again ownership of this Land and a glorious future for his descendants. Then on his way to his father, Isaac, in Kiryat Arba/Chevron, Jacob's beloved wife Rachel dies in childbirth and is buried in Bethlehem on the way to Efrata.
In heart, Bet El and Efrat are sister cities, not only because we are mentioned together in the Torah portion, but because there are so many connections between the two places. Our populations are similar - lovers of Torah and Eretz Yisrael. Many Efrat residents have family in Bet El, and visa versa. Efrat children have learned (and continue to do so) in the Bet El Yeshiva and visa versa. Efrat residents, Nadia Matar, Eve Harow and Dovid Willner, are radio hosts on Bet El's Arutz 7. And quite a number of Efrat's second generation are living in Bet El, taking advantage of the reasonable rentals and caravan opportunities, and the chevra (group) of serious young Torah families.
We spent Shabbat Vayishlach with our children in Bet El. They are pioneers living in a modest caravan on the hill, Pisgat Yaakov, overlooking the place of Jacob's dream. (Others on the hill include children and grandchildren of Efrat and Gush Etzion families.) The young people living on Pisgat Yaakov are idealistic, bright and dedicated. Together, they are a strong vibrant community that bode very well for the future of Am Yisrael, IY"H.
Our Sabbath began as one of the residents blew the shofar to signal the start of Shabbat. In different neighborhoods, I had heard music before candlelighting, but never the sound of the shofar. But Ilan, the baal tokea (shofar blower) said that it was an ancient custom. And ancient customs feel very right in Bet El.
I found the reason on the website: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/ - "The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat on Daf 35, Side B, discussed a custom that took place in Jewish communities every Erev Shabbat. Every Erev Shabbat, a fellow used to go up to one of the tall roofs in the city and blow the Shofar blasts to warn the people that Shabbat is coming.He would blow a Tikea, a Teruah, and then a Tikea. He would then blow a second set of Tikea, Teruah, Tekia. The Gemara discusses what each set represented. For example, the first sound would be blasted in order to warn the farmers in the fields that they should put down their equipment, stop planting, and start making their way back home to accept Shabbat. The second set was to tell the merchants in the city that it is time to close shop. The third set reminded the people it’s time to light the Nerot Shabbat. There would be three more sets of blasts, with the last signifying that Shabbat has begun."
The synagogue on the hilltop was packed in the morning, and someone's little Sephardi boys sang together as a choir, at the end of the services. Mothers and babies floated in and out, and the atmosphere was very warm.
On Shabbat afternoon, I took my grandbabies for a walk. We looked down to the place of The Dream.
What a zechut (privilege) to be able to stand where once a ladder reached to Heaven, where angels descended and ascended. We stood in the open air, and yet, it felt as if we were in a sanctuary. And he called the place, "El-Bet-El, for it was there that G-d had been revealed to him..." (Genesis 35:7) One of the residents also pointed out the place of the Alon Bachut, where Devorah was buried. He said, that tree, the largest of the area, is ancient, and if it is not exactly Devorah's tree, it is an offshoot of that tree.
I couldn't take the stroller to the top of the water tower, from which you can see all the way to Israel's coast, but there were lots of young people up on top taking advantage of the weather to see the land of Hashem's promise. "That land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give to you; and to your offspring after you I will give the land." (Genesis 35:12)
We returned home to Efrat, and our minds were on the continuation of Jacob's story. As he approached Efrat while traveling through Bethlehem, his wife Rachel went into labor, and died in childbirth. She called her son, Ben Oni (son of My Mourning), but Jacob gave him a more optimistic named, "'Benyamin' (son of the RIGHT), a symbol of strength and success." (The Stone Edition Tanach)
We pray that Hashem bless the residents of Bet El and Efrat, and all of Eretz Yisrael. May they appreciate the privilege that they have to live in G-d's Land, and may they follow in the direction of their forefathers, as well as Benyamin, bringing strength and success to the Jewish people always.