By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis
In this week`s parsha we discover how we might best develop our spiritual potential and find more meaning in our lives.
Our father Jacob had a vision through a dream that speaks to us for all time. In his dream he beheld a ladder anchored to the ground reaching heavenward, with angels ascending and descending. This dream evokes many questions. Why do angels need a ladder? And should they not descend before they ascend? Why is a ladder the connecting link between heaven and earth? Why not a bridge? What is the lesson of this ladder?
G-d wanted to teach us that if we are to realize our spiritual capabilities, we must keep growing. Even as we climb a ladder rung by rung, so too must we be constantly climbing, striving to reach ever greater heights on the road of life. Moreover, on a ladder, we can never stand still, we can never just coast–either we go up or we go down. Similarly, we cannot be content with our status quo, for if we do not progress, we regress. To be a Jew is to be in a constant state of development. We never graduate from the university of life. As long as we are alive, our Torah learning and observance of mitzvos must continue to develop. The ladder in Jacob`s dream is firmly planted in the ground, but the top reaches the heavens. Similarly, we too must be firmly planted in our convictions, but always looking heavenward, always striving to enhance our spirituality and connection to G-d.
The simile of the ladder is an allusion to Mt. Sinai, since the word “sulam”–ladder, and Sinai have the same gematria–(numerical value of 130). There are other Hebrew words that add up to 130 and we can further expound on the meaning of the ladder by defining them. They are “kol”–voice, prayer–tzom–fasting/repentance and momun–money/charity–all vehicles through which we build our ladder. It is this concept that we proclaim in our High Holy Day liturgy: “Repentance, Prayer and Charity cancel the evil decree.”
As to why angels ascend prior to descending, it is because we create those angels through our deeds, through our Torah, mitzvos and chesed (acts of loving kindness). The righteous angels speak on our behalf in the heavens above, but alas, the converse is also true when we lack faith and abandon our sacred heritage.
There is also a prophetic teaching that we learn from these angels: The nations that have oppressed us throughout history, are represented in the heavens above by their own angels. Jacob saw them ascend. But not to fear–their ascendency was only momentary, for ultimately, they all descend.
Finally, in his dream, Jacob beheld the Almighty Himself above the ladder, teaching us that nothing in the world occurs at random. It is G-d who directs and guides everything that befalls us. Therefore, we must never be afraid. We need only turn to our Heavenly Father and He will help us climb that ladder, rung by rung, step by step, until such time as we attain our full spiritual potential and realize our destiny as Jews.
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