We are all familiar with the Medrash (quoted by Rashi) that relates how Yaakov gathered the stones and placed them around his head. The stones began quarreling with one another. “I want the tzaddik to place his head on me!” “No, I want him to rest his head on me!” In the end, Hashem performed a miracle and the 12 stones combined into one.
Why did the stones argue? What difference did it make upon which stone Yaakov lay his head? Stones are inanimate creations that have no feelings and presumably no desires or aspirations!
Furthermore, why did Hashem reward the stones for arguing? Machlokes (divisiveness) is a very negative trait. Why did He grant them their wish?
The resolution involves one of the most fundamental Truths of existence. Every physical creation has a spiritual counterpart. Concealed deep within the subatomic particles of every molecule shines a spark of the infinite. When the physical object assists the tzaddik to ascend in Kedusha, the object as well is elevated (See Mesillas Yesharim chap. 1).
This is the concept of Korbanos (offerings; Korban implies getting close to Hashem). When an animal was sacrificed in the Bais HaMikdash, the animal itself attained a loftier spiritual degree. Indeed, when we eat in order to serve Hashem through health and heartiness, we elevate the food.
Every Creation in time and space is intended to be exploited for the purpose of serving Hashem. “Said Rabi Yosi… all of your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven (Avos 2:12).” Every action can be transformed into a mitzvah.
But there are two conditions. The first is kavanna. Before we act, we must focus our intent on utilizing the act to achieve a greater intimacy with our Creator. The second condition is that the act itself must be performed in a manner that is conducive to spiritual growth.
The sources clearly state that sleeping can be considered a mitzvah (Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 231). What a deal! But first we must intend to sleep so that the next day we will have strength and alertness to serve Hashem (e.g. davening, learning, etc.). Additionally, we should sleep only as much as we need. By staying in bed for an extra few hours we actually foil our attempt to ascend. Instead of enhancing our growth, the sleep inhibits it.
Yaakov, the man of perfection, the man of Torah, spent his entire life in the pursuit of the Divine Connection. Everything he did was for the sake of Heaven. As such, the stones stood to gain greatly by serving the tzaddik and offering him a comfortable place to rest his head. Their argument was a machlokes l’shem Shamayim, a disagreement for the sake of Heaven. They did not argue in vain. Each stone — indeed each molecule — desperately desired to ascend, to connect.
The mishna in Avos (5:17) states that “Any controversy which is for the sake of Heaven will endure”. The machlokes was based on their desire to be spiritually lifted. Seeing their sincerity, Hashem did not admonish them for their bickering. On the contrary, he helped each one fulfill its wish. The stones became one — in this world and in the next.
Time is so precious. No one knows what the next moment will bring. Is it not worth our while to turn our every breathing second into a bridge to the World-to-Come? It is so relatively easy, yet all too rare. All it takes is a little thought, for Heaven’s sake, just a little thought.