Kenneth Brander
Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Completing Our Portraits: Making Jacob’s Dream Our Reality (Parshat Vayetze)

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The dream of Jacob: Angels ascending and descending a ladder connecting the heaven to Earth (Genesis 28:12). The Talmud tells us: what was happening here? The Talmud explains that angels were ascending and gazing at the image of Jacob above; his image that is engraved on the throne of glory, the throne of God, and descending and gazing at his image below. (Chullin 91b)

Ya’akov, Jacob, the patriarch who develops the monotheistic family into a community, has a spiritual presence, both in the heavens – his image is engraved on the throne of God – and simultaneously has a physical presence in this world. That’s the dream!

Angels ascending and descending, comparing Jacob’s image, both physical and spiritual in the holy and in the everyday. The message is that this dream is humanity’s reality. We have the power and the potential in each of us.

That’s not something that angels have. We have the ability to live in both the physical and spiritual realm simultaneously.

Angels go up and down on a ladder; we live in both worlds together. It’s an opportunity for us to bring the physical and spiritual world together to bring into the spiritual realm, the physical and the physical into the spiritual realm.

This dream, the dream of our patriarch, Jacob, of Yisrael, is a question to each and every one of us. Do our physical and spiritual portraits match as Jacobs did? And if they don’t, what can we do to make sure that our spiritual likeness and our physical likeness match in both worlds?

How do we make sure that they resemble each other?

You know, sometimes people attack us, and that can bother us. We start to reevaluate our lives. But that doesn’t count, because we are God’s children.

And the question that we really need to ask ourselves, as partners of God: do our physical and spiritual portraits match?

That’s what should challenge us. Nothing else.

And if our physical and spiritual portraits don’t match, how do we change our image?

How do we make sure that they begin to resemble each other?

The Talmud continues: when they saw that humankind could live in both worlds, the angels subsequently became jealous of Jacob. They wanted to endanger his life; and immediately Jacob received divine protection.

As the verse states, “And behold, the Lord stood over him.” (Genesis 28:13)

Rav Shimon ben Lakish says, If the Torah didn’t tell us this – that God protected humankind – it would be forbidden for us to say it. But it is like a father who fans his son to keep him cool, to keep him comfortable. (Chullin 91b)

That’s the relationship that we have with God. You see, we are God’s partners. We are here to finish what God began.

And therefore, the dream, or our reality is, that we live in two worlds, like Jacob, a physical and a spiritual.

We can’t waste our energy on what other people say about us or feel about us. Our primary concern and goal has to be: is our heavenly likeness and physical likeness an extension of each other? And if they’re not, how do we make sure that Jacob’s dream becomes our reality?

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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