This week’s Torah reading begins with the story of Jacob’s dream of the ladder ascending to heaven and the angels going up and down. At the end of the dream, G-d speaks to him. It is a promise to a man, but it foretells the history of a people. It is a lesson of profound importance in our own time.
On his way to Haran to seek a wife, a fearful Jacob lies down to rest. In his dream he saw a ladder ascending to heaven with angels going up and down. Pirkei de’Rabbi Eliezer, explains that the angels represented the various kingdoms and empires that were destined to rise and fall over the years. But in the end, it would be Jacob’s dream that would prevail. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik has suggested that the angels represented the dream itself. No dream or vision is fulfilled at once. The loftier the vision the harder it can be to achieve. There will always be challenges and setbacks to overcome. The common thread between both explanations is that the dream foretold the history of a people. We have faced the mighty empires. They often defeated us, but never destroyed us. They rose and fell; we have outlasted them all. There have been many setbacks and challenges but with G-d’s help we have always prevailed.
Let us look more closely at G-d’s words to Jacob at the end of the dream with the hindsight of thousands of years to see three phases of Jewish history.
I am Hashem the G-d of Abraham, your father, and the G-d of Isaac. The land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. – This refers to the early period of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Joshua, the Judges, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemia, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, the first and second Temples.
The next verse, we can see in retrospect talks about the Diaspora.
Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth – Your descendants will be treated like dirt. There will be pogroms, Inquisitions and Holocausts.
You shall be spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south – There is hardly a place in the world where there haven’t been Jews at one time or another as we travelled from one exile to the next and fled persecution in the quest for refuge.
All the families of the world will be blessed by you and your descendants – The contributions of the Jewish people in law, science, medicine, literature, art, and every phase of human endeavor have enriched the entire world. We have spread the message of morality, kindness, and charity.
The third verse talks about the era we are in today.
Remember I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go, and I WILL BRING YOU BACK TO THIS LAND. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you. – We have suffered many setbacks. But G-d has never forsaken us. “In every generation they rise against us to annihilate us and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.” After 2,000 years of exile, He has brought us back to our historic homeland.
With the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel we have begun to climb Jacob’s ladder. What awaits on top is the ultimate fulfillment of G-d’s promise. The dawn of a new era of peace with all G-d’s children bound together in love for G-d and all His creations.
We have begun the ascent. We do not know how long it will take to reach the top. It may be very soon; it may be many years from now. There will no doubt be challenges and setbacks along the way. There may be times when we will have to take one step down in order to climb two steps up. But we, as a people, will get there.
We have returned to the land where we became a nation, where our kings ruled, where our prophets preached and where our sages taught. We have come home, to write the next great page in the ongoing never-ending story of the Jewish people. There will be a next great page, the one that with G-d’s help we will all write together.