This coming Sabbath, November 17, we study the parashah called “Vayetzei”. You will find this weekly section in the Book of Genesis 25:10-31:3. In it, we read about the first of Jacob’s dreams, a dream that contains the famous vignette of Jacob’s ladder.
As is typical of dreams, we see how Jacob’s subliminal fears and fantasies merge into a unique reality. The dream is about a strange ladder that the Bible describes with the words “sulam mutzav artza v’rosho magia ha’shamayima.” It is a ladder that is set firmly in the earth with its top/head reaching toward the heavens.
Jewish scholars and commentators have noted that the ladder poses multiple problems. To what was it anchored? Furthermore, although the ladder went from earth to sky those on it, the malachim (meaning: messengers or angles) seem to be going in reverse order. That is they are ascending and then descending. What lessons is the text trying to teach us with this narrative or is this narrative only reflective of Jacob’s subconscious?
The interpretations of this strange dream are as numerous as the stars in the heavens. One possible interpretation is that Jacob’s ladder teaches us something about our history and our sense of spirituality.
Does each of the ladder’s rungs represent a phase of Jewish history? In many ways, Jewish history is about beginning as simple slaves and through much effort climbing the ladder of history: from slavery to freedom. On a personal level might his ladder be teaching us that all of us at times must climb out of personal moments of despair, out of times when it appears that we have lost control of our lives and find our way to higher rungs of hope and personal renewal? Jewish history has not been unidirectional. Like the angels in Jacob’s dream, we have had our ups and downs, our high points and our low points. In a like manner, each of our lives has its own ups and downs, moments of successes and failures, moments when all seems dark and then through hard work and faith we come to a higher rung on the ladder of life
From this perspective, Jacob’s dream is more than merely one man’s dream, but a parable teaching us a that spirituality must be based with our feet planted in the reality of the ground and our eyes facing the hope that emanates from heaven.
On a political level, this is a lesson reminding us that as a small people we cannot afford to have our head in the clouds; that wishful thinking is dangerous. On a personal level, it reminds us not to be afraid to see the beauty of tomorrow as long as we base our hopes in facts.
Might this dream be a warning that when good people on both a collective and individual basis choose to ignore evil then the ladder of history will topple and crises will ensue? Is Jacob’s dream a powerful lesson both in political theory and personal psychology? Is it a lesson that all of us need to learn over and over again?
Please note: Due to a heavy travel schedule the next edition of the weekly Parashah will be on November 30. We wish everyone a good and meaningful Thanksgiving.
Youtubes of the week:
A song of Thanksgiving:
Modeh Ani: (I give thanks to G-d) the version in Hebrew and English:
Modeh Ani (Yo agradezco a D-os) a Sephardic version: