In the beginning of this parsha, Yaacov leaves Be’er Sheva and goes to Haran. He stops at “the place,” sleeps, and has a dream of a ladder extending to heaven, with angels going up and going down. Hashem appears and tells Yaacov that he and his descendants will be given that land upon which he is lying, that his “seed shall be as the dust of the earth,” and that Hashem will provide protection.
Before Yaacov goes to sleep, he places stones around his head, but, when he awakens, he takes the stone (singular) that he had placed at his head. He anoints it with oil, making it a monument (matzeiva).
At the end of the parsha, Yaacov and Lavan use stones to erect another matzeiva, to commemorate their truce.
See here for a shiur by Rabbi Berman that points out that Yaacov erected four matzeivot. The third is erected at the site where Yaacov had the dream when he returns there. The fourth is to mark the kever of Rachel.
Rabbi Berman explains how the four are all related to the dream and its promises of land, children, and protection:
“The first commemorates the dream itself, the second the protection of God, the third the promise of the land, and the fourth, tragically, the blessing of children. The presence of God in Yaacov’s life (‘nitzav alav’) and the ensuing sanctification (‘ve-rosho magia ha-shamayma’) are symbolized by Yaacov’s matzeivot and the annointing in Beit-El, the ‘gate of heaven.””
Why matzeivot? Rabbi Berman points out that the root for matzeivah appears twice in the dream. The ladder is mutzav, or set, upon the ground. Hashem is nitzav, standing, over Yaacov.
(Rabbi Berman also puts forth the following question: “There is only one other matzeiva in the Torah (not including the idolatrous ones of the nations of Canaan) and that is during the giving of the Torah. Moshe erects twelve matzeivot at the foot of Mount Sinai. What is the connection between Mount Sinai and Yaakov’s ladder?”
I don’t know if this is the complete answer, but the Midrash points out that the word for ladder, sulam, and Sinai both have the numerical value of 130. Rabbi Kahn has a discussion of this. He mentions other parallels between Sinai and ladder (both part of revelations, both were “conduits” to heaven). He adds that the word for voice, kol, has the numerical value of 130, as well, which ties in the power of prayer.
According to the Midrash (explained at Shirat Devorah), Yaacov’s dream includes a vision of Matan Torah, with the ladder being Har Sinai and the angels being Moshe and Aaron.
Getting back to stones, the word for stone, even, is seen as a contraction of av (father) and ben (s0n). The Midrash says that Yaacov gathered twelve stones that became one, which foreshadowed the twelve tribes.)
For the parsha, I baked rock cake (also known as rock buns)(digression: I think a stone is technically a rock fragment, but most people use the words stone and rock interchangeably). This is a classic British tea time treat that is so easy to make, it is often one of the first recipes taught to school children (here is a recipe especially written for kids). They are so named because of their craggy, lumpy appearance–not their texture. The exterior is crispy and the interior is moist and tender–like a cake-ey cookie or a cross between a cookie and a scone. Only over baking will make these treats hard like rocks (well, that and letting them go stale. Although, there is little chance of that happening. My rock cakes are already almost all gone. I will have to bake again for Shabbos.)
Most rock cake recipes are pretty consistent with their proportions: 8 ounces self rising flour, 4 ounces butter, 3-4 ounces sugar, 1 egg plus 2-3 Tbl. milk, 3-6 ounces dried fruit, a bit of spice. The baking temperature called for varies, as does the yield. Most recipes yield 8-10 large-ish cakes the size of a scone. They are baked at a hot temperature for 15-20 minutes and then served like biscuits, split warm and spread with butter. Another variation yields 20-24 small rock cakes that are more like cake-ey cookies.
For the smaller cookie sized version, I took inspiration from a small booklet called “Lacock Tea Time Recipes,” by Freda Murray. Mrs. Murray’s original list of ingredients: 8 ounces flour, 4 ounces butter, 4 ounces sugar, 6 ounces mixed fruit, 2 eggs, 1 tsp. milk, lemon zest, plus crushed sugar cubes for sprinkling over the rock cake before baking. I added spice as an optional ingredient in my recipe, even though I didn’t add it and Mrs. Murray does not call for it, because it is a traditional addition that appears in most rock cake recipes.
8 ounces flour (this is about 1 3/4 cups–you can use all white, half white/half whole wheat, or all whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. spice (optional but traditional, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon with some nutmeg would be nice)
4 ounces butter (I used 2 ounces coconut oil and 1.5 ounces corn oil)
3-4 ounces sugar (I used 2 ounces brown sugar and 2 ounces white sugar and the results were quite sweet–cookie sweet rather than scone sweet–especially with all the chocolate chips I added and the sugar I sprinkled on top. UPDATE: I made this again with 3 ounces white sugar and it was plenty sweet enough)
3-6 ounces dried fruit, like currants (actually, I went with chocolate chips because my kids dislike raisins in their desserts)
lemon zest can be nice, too
2 eggs (or 1 egg plus 2-3 Tbl. milk)
1 tsp. vanilla (or just 1 tsp. milk)
Demerara sugar (raw sugar, the kind of sugar with large chrystals, optional)
Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt. Rub the butter into the flour until there are no large lumps (the flour will look like cornmeal). Stir in the sugar and whatever mix-ins you are using ( lemon zest, dried fruit, or, in my case, chocolate chips). Beat the eggs with a tsp. of vanilla or milk. Stir the beaten eggs into the flour mixture until a rough dough forms.
Plop rough blobs of dough (they should be craggy and rock like) onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Sprinkle with demerara sugar (or crushed sugar cubes) for a sparkly effect (optional). Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes. I got about 20 rock cakes, but I could have made them slightly smaller to get 2 dozen or much larger to get 8-10 large rock cakes. The larger rock cakes need closer to 15-20 minutes of baking.
Mrs. Murray was explicit about the temperature (gas number 6, which is 400 degrees F), but silent on bake time. I went with 12 minutes, or when the tops were starting to get browned, but were mostly pale, and the bottoms were lightly browned. Just to see what they would be like baked longer, I tried letting them bake for 14 minutes, at which point the rock cakes started to over brown.
Notes: if you are looking for something more scone-like and not so sweet, you can cut the sugar back to 3 ounces (about 1/2 cup brown sugar or 6-7 Tbl. white sugar), or even as little at 3 Tbl. sugar (see below recipe from Great British Cooking).
Other rock cake recipe:
The Cranks Recipe Book: 8 ounces whole wheat flour (self-rising, you would have to add 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt to approximate), 4 ounces butter, 1 tsp. spice, 3 ounces raw sugar, 2 ounces currants, 1 egg, 2 Tbl. milk, zest 1/2 lemon. Makes 8 buns, baked at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
Great British Cooking: 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 3 Tbl. sugar, 4 ounces butter, 1 cup currants, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup milk. Makes 15, baked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Hagrid’s Rock Cakes: 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2-1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 cup butter, 1 egg, 1/3 cup milk, 1/2 – 1 cup raisins. Makes 12, baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
The English Kitchen’s Rock Cakes, from Marks and Spencer’s The Baking Bible: 8 ounces flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 4 ounces butter, 3 ounces muscovado sugar, 3 ounces mixed dried fruit, lemon zest, 1 egg, 1-2 Tbl. milk, plus, for sprinkling over, 3 Tbl. demerara sugar. Makes 8-10, baked at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Bonus: there is also a Spanish dessert called rock cakes, for which Sheila Kaufman provided a recipe in Jewish Woman Magazine. They sound like coconut macaroons.