Vayetze: Being The Ladder

In honor of my Bar Mitzvah on Parashat VaYetzeh my parents z”l bought a painting depicting sulam Ya’akov – Jacob’s ladder.  This is of course one of the well known stories from the Torah. Jacob is fleeing for his life, after having tricked his brother yet again.  He arrives at “bamakom, the place,” and there dreams of the ladder between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending.  God promises that God will be with Jacob, that he will have numerous descendents, will inherit the ground he is sleeping on, and that through his descendents will all the families of the earth be blessed.  Jacob wakes up with a start and declares, “Surely Adonai is in this makom, and I did not know.”

Our sages made much of this dream, and tried to decipher why the angels arise, and then descend, instead of the other way around. In our day, my rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Larry Kushner wrote an entire book based on different possible interpretations of Jacob’s statement that he had not known that God was in that makom – “GOD was in this PLACE & I, I did not know.”   Jacob is visited that night by different teachers from our past, but still the future when Jacob is dreaming.

Our sages also asked where this “place” was, the dominant interpretation is that it was Mt. Moriah, where the Temple would one day connect between heaven and earth.  They taught that God is the makom, within which all creation exists – not the other way around.  In my Bar Mitzvah dvar Torah, I said that anywhere in God’s Creation can be that place where, with the required spiritual awareness, we can experience God.

If, in fact Jacob dreamed the ladder in Jerusalem, than we can say that it connected between “Yerushalayim shel mata” and “Yerushalayim shel mala,” between earthly and heavenly Jerusalem.  Yerushalayim shel mala embodies all of our highest ideals and aspirations.

Today, heavenly Jerusalem and earthly Jerusalem are very different. In the heavenly Jerusalem, we would not mistreat or oppress each other.  In the heavenly Jerusalem the Sumarin family would not be evicted by the KKL-JNF, nor would the Sabakh or Siam or any other Palestinian family be evicted from their homes simply because they are not Jewish. In the heavenly Jerusalem, people of all faiths can pray on God’s Holy Mount through mutual respect and agreement, not through the use of power by one group over another. In the heavenly Jerusalem, we understand and act in accordance with the fact that, because we are all created in God’s Image, we are all “re’eim.” — “You shall love your re’eh as yourself.” In the heavenly Jerusalem, we don’t just live in a more holy way in our relations with our fellow human beings, but with the planet.  We don’t just say add “all human beings” or “all inhabitants of our planet,” to “May the One Who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us and all Israel.”  We add, “v’al kol ha’olam,” for all the planet itself and everything it contains. We could even say,  “all the universe.”

We must seek/create the ladder so that life in Yerushalayim shel mata is lived according to the ideals of Yerushalayim shel mala.

Recalling how the Jewish mystics often diagramed envisioned the sefirot, God’s emanations linking upper and lower worlds, in the pattern of the human body, we must be the ladder.

The question is, “how?”

The lesson we learn from Jacob, is that the “how” begins with awareness, and a way of being.   He must wake up spiritually, and realize that up until that moment he had been unaware, both when asleep and when awake.  This is not some selfish pursuit of personal enlightenment. When, in the depths of our being, we are aware that our particular Israeli Jewish, or any other identity, is a bridge and a ladder that makes us a bridge and a ladder, we then see our well being in the well being of the all encompassing, not in gaining personal or collective advantage over another part of the greater whole.

Then we understand God’s promise to Jacob.  The welfare and security of you and your progeny are important. This is not to be ignored or sacrificed. AND, You and your progeny, the Jewish people, will be truly blessed not through oppressing or ruling over or seeking gain and advantage from others because you are chosen, but by being the agent of blessing for all humanity, and all the world.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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