Considering Ya’akov’s innovation in Wine-Libation on a Pillar

We read of Ya’akov setting-up a מצבה stone-pillar towards the beginning of last week’s parashah (Gen. 28.18), as well as later on in the parashah (Gen. 31.51-52). In this week’s parashah, we see him doing so a third time, yet he introduces an innovation into his stone-pillar setting-up: “וַיַּצֵּב יַעֲקֹב מַצֵּבָה, בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ–מַצֶּבֶת אָבֶן; וַיַּסֵּךְ עָלֶיהָ נֶסֶךְ, וַיִּצֹק עָלֶיהָ שָׁמֶן And Ya’akov set up a pillar at the site where He had spoken to him, a pillar of stone, and he libated a libation on it and poured oil upon it” (Gen. 35.14). What’s going on for Ya’akov in innovating for his third stone-pillar?

Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167) suggests that he libated the stone-pillar with “מים או יין. והטעם שרחץ אותה. ואחר כן יצק עליה שמן with either wine or water, and the reason was to wash the stone-pillar, and then followed it up with pouring the oil over it” (אבן עזרא), with which Nahmanides agrees (רמב”ן).

While the suggestion of water for the libation makes sense within the context of washing off the stone-pillar prior to Ya’akov’s oil-pouring, it doesn’t seem to make sense considering that most of the libations throughout the rest of the Torah are done with wine, whether in the Book of Exodus, Leviticus, or most of Numbers (there is one exception, which I will discuss when we get to it (but it’s not water)). This is probably why both Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235) (רד”ק) and Ovadiah ben Jacob Sforno (1475-1550) (ספורנו) write that it was with wine.

While it is still unclear as to why or how Ya’akov came up with the idea for libating wine on the stone-pillar prior to pouring oil on it, Rabbi Ovadiah ben Jacob Sforno mentions that “כי בזה הכין את המקום שראוי שיקימנה שם כענין דוד בהראות אליו המלאך בגורן ארונה היבוסי What he did here was similar to what David did in his time when he prepared the foundation for the Temple his son Solomon was to build after his death in accordance with what the angel had told him at the threshing ground of Arona the Jebusite.”

One possibility as why wine-libating could be powerful is that wine, just like oil, is no simple product; both require pressing of the fruits and other humanly involvement, whereas water is something that is merely drawn. Furthermore, both wine and oil are precious products, so that pouring them out is truly giving of one’s own precious materials in a demonstration of sacrificing to God.

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