Jacob’s Ladder

parashas Vayeitzei 5782

Life, time, and personal growth may be reckoned according to increments. Such as markers along the way, in terms of life events, both universal and personal. For example, what humankind has in common, regarding birth, religious commitment (Bar or Bas Mitzvah in Judaism), finding a vocation, marriage, and death. As for the individual points in time that may be more personal defining moments within the framework of our lives, these may include friendships, homes, geographical areas, all subject to change to one degree or another.

Yet, there must be a constant factor in life that is unchanging; at least, this would be the ideal situation. Inasmuch as modernity is so different than the traditional societies of the past, wherein there was more stability from generation within the same geographic area, or even the same ancestral home, what remains unchanged must needs be found within. Externals are too subject to change; we need a rock, a firm unchanging foundation in life.

So, on the one hand, while the ladder in Jacob’s dream spanning the length of heaven and earth may serve symbolically to remind us of the steps along the way of our life journey, whether personal or universal, another symbol may be found in the narrative, that serves as an unchanging reminder ideally keeping us grounded at all times, if we resort to its refuge: the even shetiyah – foundation stone. This stone may serve as the very foundation of our lives.

Permit me to explain. Within the framework of the narrative, Jacob, is on the road to Haran to find a wife from amongst his own kindred. Before he goes to sleep in a location referred to as hamakom (the place), he places rocks around his head. Ostensibly, this is to protect from wild animals. Yet, after his dream, upon realizing when he wakes that this place is “the House of G-d,” the very spot where heaven and earth connect, he proceeds to take the stone, and anoint the stone with oil.

In the plain sense of the verse, of the stones that he placed around his head the previous night, he chose one stone and anointed the stone with oil. From a midrashic perspective, it is as if the stones became one. In either rendering, the significance of this stone may be understood in light of the following verse: “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation stone, a tried stone, a costly corner-stone of sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16, JPS 1917 Tanach). This refers to Moshiach (Messiah), who may be likened unto a sure foundation for our lives.

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