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.

the Ascent of Prayer

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei 5781

“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it.”

– Genesis 28:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

After the debacle of Esau’s temper, became known, Jacob was sent away to find a wife in Haran, amongst his own kindred. Essentially, he left in flight from the simmering wrath of his brother, Esau, who was furious about not receiving the blessing of the firstborn. Jacob sets out penniless, travelling by foot to the land of his mother’s brother, Laban. Along the way, he grows weary towards evening; so, he rests at a certain place, where he places stones around his head, before going to sleep. There, he dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth; there are angels ascending and descending upon the ladder.

We would expect that the angels would first descend from heaven, then ascend back to heaven. However, the wording is specific, the angels were “ascending and descending.” One explanation given is that the angels are angelic messengers of prayers. The angels are even likened to the actual prayers, ascending to Heaven as requests to G-d; then, descending as specific replies to those requests. It is as if the angels are standing by on earth, ready to take our prayers to Heaven; at some point later, they are answered in one form or another. Perhaps, not many of us stop to ponder how our prayers reach G-d anyway; so, this could be as viable an explanation as any other. Elsewhere it is written that our prayers obtain wings like angels, enabling them to ascend on high to G-d.

The place that Jacob dreamt about the ladder, connecting heaven and earth is described by him, when he awakes, as “none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, JPS). It is feasible, to think of a unique place upon the earth, whereof there is a direct connection to G-d, a sort of umbilical cord between heaven and earth. The place where Jacob dreamt his dream is thought to be Mount Moriah, where eventually, much later in time, G-d’s House was indeed built, initially by King Solomon. Although, since Beis-El is ten miles north of Jerusalem, where Mount Moriah was located, the connection between Beis-El and Mount Moriah may be more symbolic.

Regardless, the “Temple Mount,” where the “House of G-d stood,” is currently in the midst of Jerusalem. For the Jewish people, this is the holiest place on earth. Although access to the Western Wall, part of the complete wall that surrounded the entire location where the Temple once stood, is limited because of restrictions put in place during the pandemic, people from around the world would usually flock here to pray. This does not imply that G-d is unable to hear our prayers, wherever we live upon the face of the earth. Even though, according to tradition, He sits on His Throne in Seventh Heaven, He is still able to hear our whispered prayers, even the prayers in the silence of our hearts.

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