Title: Pillars And Altars
Major Focus: Holy Altar
Minor Focus: Sacrificial Rituals
Abstract: On the way into exile, Jacob set up a pillar for God. On his return to Israel, he set up an altar. What is the difference?
Format: Rabbinic Argument
"And this stone which I have set up as a
pillar shall be God's home."
"He (Jacob) set up an altar there, and
called it El-elohe-yisrael."
On the way into exile Jacob set up a pillar for God. On his
return to Israel he set up an altar. Why the difference?
- Ramban: A Biblical "pillar"
means only one stone. An altar is made up of many stones. A pillar was for
pouring out oil and wine for God. An altar was for making animal sacrifices.
Pillars were forbidden when the Children of Israel actually conquered the
Promised Land, because the Canaanites had been using pillars for
- What are "altars" used for now? Where are they located? Are
they used for animal sacrifices? Why not? When did the change from their old
use to their present use occur?
- Why did God forbid the use of pillars for worship just
because the Canaanites used to do it?
- Hirsch: The pillar was one
single stone. It was part of God's natural world. It was fine to represent
God's kindness to people. It could be used before the Torah was given. However,
after the Torah was given, God wanted more than just wine or oil poured on a
stone. People had to bring important sacrifices to show their love for God and
willingness to do the work God wanted done in the world. After the Torah was
given, pillars were no longer allowed, only altars.
- Why might ancient peoples pour wine and oil on a stone to
show their thankfulness to God?
- Why did God want something more complicated after the Torah
- How was animal sacrifice more important than using oil and
- Abraham Kook: The pillar was
for the earliest, simplest forms of worship. There was no special ritual, no
prayers, no elaborate rules for how to worship God. The altar is used in the
"House of God." The altar helps us climb the mountain of God, to enter into the
world of holiness, the House of the Eternal God.
- What did Jacob call the place where he first set up a pillar
and later an altar? (Beth El) What does that name mean?
- What does it mean to climb God's mountain? Is that really
where God lives?
- What is the world of holiness? Where is it? Why is the earth
sometimes called God's holy mountain?