Sign In Forgot Password

Rabbi Jon’s Reflection on This Week’s Torah Portion

11.24.2023

Vayetze 2023: Jacob Saw a Ladder with Angels on Every Rung

A short reflection on Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3)  

Ladders and I aren’t the best of friends. I am always filled with confidence when stepping on the first few rungs but once I get six feet up I begin to have some doubts. My fear probably comes from a time in my 30’s when I was wielding a motorized saw ten feet above ground attempting to trim a tree when I lost my balance. As I grabbed a hold of the ladder it began to sway. I thought I was going to take a fall. Images I won’t describe flashed before my eyes. To say I was a bit panicked would be an understatement. Luckily, I righted myself, dropped the saw, and decided to leave tree trimming to professionals. I’ve climbed many ladders since, but I only do so with the greatest of respect. 

In this week's Torah portion, Vayetzei, our ancestor Jacob dreams of a ladder while taking a respite during his journey from Ber Sheva to Haran. Our Torah teaches (Genesis 28:12), “He had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and messengers of God were going up and down on it.” As with many stories in our Torah, there are a number of elements that would overwhelm a person – angels, God, and a ladder that goes to the heavens. But, I have to question – why would winged angels need a ladder? It seems like a completely out of place element. I’ve come to believe that the ladder is not meant for the angels but for us. 

On a spiritual level, the ladder represents moving toward the holy as represented by the ladder reaching toward the heavens.  Tradition teaches that every living thing has an angel. The angels in this biblical legend remind us that we can follow them up the ladder by acting righteously or we can fall from a path of righteousness. When we fall, our angel accompanies us back down, ready to protect us and to convince us to attempt the climb all over again. Our goal is to reach the top of the ladder without falling, a nearly impossible task but one worth attempting.

The Hasidic master Elimelekh of Lizensk believed, “the top of the ladder leading to perfection is anavah (humility).”  No matter how successful Jacob was to become, his spiritual rise would come from anavah. When only ego pushes us forward, we are bound to crash back to earth just as Jacob did repeatedly. Humility allows us to rise as it did for our ancestors. 

What bothers me about Jacob’s ladder is that nothing stabilizes it. Isn’t that the first rule of climbing a ladder – someone needs to hold the bottom? It’s a lot safer to move up a ladder when you have a strong person at the bottom. 

As is human nature, when you feel safe on one rung, you’re not fearful of the next. Often, we find that we’ve climbed too high and the ladder is about to fall because no one is stabilizing it. To climb any ladder – physical, spiritual, or fiscal – we need to make sure we have someone present to secure it properly. 

What stabilizes your ladder? Family, friends, God, partners, the Kol Tikvah community? What allows you to reach for holiness and communal betterment? We all climb ladders every day. As we go up, let’s remember that we can only climb so high without a strong hand holding the bottom and an angel by our side.

***

VAYETZE SUMMARY FROM URJ.ORG

  • Jacob dreams of angels going up and down a ladder. God blesses him. Jacob names the place Bethel. (28:10-22)

  • Jacob works seven years in order to marry Rachel, but Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. (29:16-25)

  • Jacob marries Rachel but only after having to commit himself to seven more years of working for Laban. (29:26-30)

  • Leah, Rachel, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, give birth to eleven sons and one daughter. (29:31-30:24)

  • Jacob and his family leave Laban's household with great wealth. (31:1-32:3)

For more on this Torah portion from the URJ go to: https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/vayeitzei    

 

 

Sat, March 2 2024 22 Adar I 5784