In Parshat Vayetzei, Yaakov (Jacob) begins a journey to find himself a wife, and essentially begin his life. But when he sleeps and dreams of G-d telling him that the land he’s sleeping on is Holy, he is compelled to bring sacrifices, and promises to give a percentage of what he has back to G-d as Maaser (tithe – which we still practice today). In the Torah, however, it says that “Yaakov woke up from his sleep and said “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know” (28:16), and shortly later it says that “Yaakov woke up early in the morning and took the stone that he placed around his head and set it up as a pillar” (28:18). Did Yaakov go back to sleep? It seems that he woke up twice. Furthermore, why did he suddenly feel compelled to promise to give a percentage of what he earns?
One way to answer these questions is by examining the dream Yaakov had. In the dream, G-d told Yaakov that the land he was sleeping on would be his, for his children, that He would protect Yaakov, and eventually return him to his land. Why would the land, which is the least spiritual thing in the world, be so important that G-d had to assure Yaakov that it would be his, and that he would be returned to it? The answer to this question is also the reason Yaakov ‘woke up’ the first time…He didn’t physically wake up, but merely realized how much potential land had. As Yaakov put it….”This is the gate to heaven”. Through working on the land, and through using it to fulfill G-d’s will, we can create a gate to heaven. Land is no longer just land, but has now become more sacred, simply because it gives us more opportunities to do Mitzvot (positive deeds), thereby becoming more spiritual. Giving a percentage of what we earn to charity is ALSO a way of using a very earthly item (money) for a higher purpose, which is why Yaakov saw it necessary to commit to it right then.
We too must realize that there is nothing in this world that can’t be used to elevate us spiritually, and it’s our job to find ways to do just that. So we use Email to read Dvar Torahs, which is great, but it shouldn’t stop there. We must use food, clothes, money, and even nice scenery to bring us closer to the “gates of heaven”. The sooner we realize how much potential there is for us to grow spiritually in this world, the sooner we can “get growing”.