Consider this: the most ordinary stone can be rolled into a state of holiness. The most ordinary thing can become holy – but it can require our active effort.
In this week's Torah reading (Vayetzei), Jacob journeyed from his home in Beer-Sheva and, on his first night, prepared to sleep by placing a stone beneath his head. Jacob dreamed of angels on a ladder and hears several promises from God including that he'd have innumerable descendants who be blessings for others. On waking, Jacob said that “God was in this place and I, I did not know.” Jacob took the stone under his head and set it upright to mark "God's abode." The ordinary pillow became a holy pillar.
Why did Jacob sleep on a stone? A rough rock as a pillow couldn't have been too comfortable; even a marble sculpture as beautiful as Michelangelo’s David is cold and lifeless. Given his family background in shepherding, Jacob might have taken a more comfortable wool blanket or sheepskin. So why a stone?
Another stone mentioned later in the text that offers insight. When Jacob resumed his journey, he came onto a well covered by a large stone. His future wife Rachel appeared and Jacob rolled the stone off the well so her father’s flock could drink.
In mystical tradition, these two stones are examples of kelipot, coverings that can act as impediments to experiencing divinity. Kelipot are compared to shells that encase and inhibit the flow of holiness. There are many forms of kelipot, but all convey hidden potential to power spirituality when we use them appropriately.
The potential energy of stones depends on how we use them. Rocks can become a wall, an arch, a roadway, a hammer, a knife sharpener or a weapon (as in young David's slingshot). God is called “Rock of Israel,” – an allusion to Jacob’s pillow-stone and the protection-promise of Jacob's dream. In Vayetzei, stones represent the dichotomy of the physical and spiritual, and their potential to roll into unity.
Jacob’s pillow-stone was small enough to rest his head and yet its placement opened heaven's gates. The larger stone that covered the well needed more exertion to roll away and access life-sustaining water. Both served a purpose, but the first stone required little effort: Jacob was basically passive and just had to fall asleep. But for the story to continue, for Jacob to meet Rachel and launch the next generation of God's relationship with the Jewish people, the move required more effort.
Jacob’s journey began with a dream on a pillow stone, but he didn't begin to achieve his life’s purpose until he moved a heavy boulder. Dreams can inspire us, and then it takes our own active effort to roll away the blocks and reveal holiness in the world.