In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov Avinu gets engaged, married, and has many children. In total, Yaakov will give birth to twelve sons. Now, that is obviously a lot of children.
But why did he stop there?
In addition, the Torah portion begins with Yaakov placing stones around his head before he goes to sleep. The Medrash states that these twelve stones correspond to his eventual twelve children. According to the Medrash, it was clear to Yaakov exactly how many children he was intended to bring into the world.
So, what, then, is the significance of the number twelve?
There is a Kabbalistic answer to this question that I heard from my Rebbi, R’ Moshe Shapiro, zt”l, over 30 years ago.
Yaakov was the father from whom the children of Israel originated. Avraham was the father of Yitzchok, just as Yitzchok was the father of Yaakov. Yet, Yaakov understood that it was his job to be fruitful and multiply, so he did.
The number of children he had was in direct relationship to the three-dimensional world we live in. How do we understand this?
According to the laws of nature, a three-dimensional world has six sides. There are twelve end points on a six-sided figure. In Hebrew, these are known as the “12 boundaries.” Every three dimensional object ends in the number 12.
Yaakov understood the significance of his job in spreading the message of truth and justice that he inherited from his Avraham, to all corners of the world. It was his children, “Bnei Yisroel” – the children of Israel – whose job it was to spread out in all directions and dispense that message.
It isn’t just a coincidence that there are twelve months of the year just like there are twelve
tribes. Each of Yaakov’s sons represents a positive way of life that spreads over the year. Therefore, Yaakov knew that it would be his offspring – his twelve children – who would be empowered to make the world a better place.
As the children of Israel, we try to continue that task. While we are diverse and different in many ways, we are connected to one father, Yaakov. This is the message of “Shema” – Hear O’ Israel, Hashem is our G-D, Hashem is One.
The number 1 or “echad”, has letters whose numerical value is thirteen, equal to Yaakov and his twelve sons.
Although we have been spread to different locations, with different cultures and observances, we are still one. This was the miracle of the twelve stones in the beginning of the Parsha connecting under Yaakov’s head.
By Rabbi Simcha Bunim Berger