Jacob’s Ladder: 13 different interpretations of one metaphor; Genesis 28:12

Our Rabbis always rejoiced in the many different lessons that could be drawn from God’s words. Every verse they taught has 70 different interpretations. Here are 13 different examples of one verse and all of them are correct.

Jacob’s dream is unusual because no interpretation of the dream is given in the Bible. This teaches us that if we want to connect to heaven, the Torah is our ladder and we have to ascend to heaven by our own efforts i.e. study of the Torah text. This is why even the angels first ascend and then descend.

The ladder represents the Shabbat weekly synagogue service. When our prayers are sung our words ascend to heaven. When the Torah is read God’s inspired words descend to earth.

The rabbis said the ladder represents Sinai. Moses, Aaron and 70 of the elders of Israel ascend Sinai and experience God (Exodus 24:9-11). Before that God descended on mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20) and was revealed. Only at Sinai does God act first. Now we are like the angels who have to ascend first.

Another interpretation. The Holy One of Israel showed Jacob the giving of the Torah at Sinai and told him: If your descendants observe the Torah they will ascend, otherwise they will decline.

The ladder symbolizes Israel. When Jewish people are filled with Torah and Mitsvot they rise. When they are filled with self righteousness and selfishness they sink.

The ladder symbolizes Torah study. When the children of Israel all receive a Torah education advancing step by step and grade by grade the Jewish people rises. When many of them drop out at higher levels the Jewish people declines.

The ladder represented Jacob according to Rabbi Yannai. Jacob had ups and downs; strengths and failures. Now he learned that flawed as he was he could still receive God’s blessing and be in God’s presence even if he didn’t know it at that time.

The ladder represents the future generations of Jacob’s children-the Jewish people. They will reach great heights and descend to the depths, live in times of prosperity as well as times of persecution, and through all this they will maintain their continuity.

The ladder represents the future generations of Israel, each generation adding to the richness of the Jewish tradition. The descending angels represent those who prune the tradition, for those who prune for the sake of heaven also add.

Jacob saw a ladder not an escalator. You have to exert yourself to reach heaven. Rising doesn’t come without effort. No strain, no gain.

Jacob saw a ladder not a whip. You can’t be forced to rise up to heaven.

Jacob saw a ladder not a leader. Teachers, sages and holy men can help, but you have to do your own climbing. A loving wife or husband is the best ladder.

A human either climbs up or climbs down. Talmud: Erubin 21a

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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