Yaacov (Jacob,) our forefather, was the prototype for our people’s voyage. He too had great moments and yet was beset with equally difficult moments in his personal walk into destiny. Yaacov was fleeing from his home. He was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt. He is fatigued and drained and he falls asleep on a rock in the middle of the field.
It is then that G-d reveals to him a powerful image and a deeply impacting metaphor:
“And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, “The image of Yaacov’s ladder has fired the imagination and hearts of many looking for divine inspiration and empowerment. The imagery is almost theatrical and intricately crafted.
” a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. And behold, HaShem was standing over him, and He said, “I am HaShem, the G-d of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed.” ( Genesis 28:12-13)
The Midrash Tanhumah, views the ladder as signifying the history of mankind and the path of Jewish destiny. Each of its rungs and angels representing each of the succeeding kingdoms that ruled the earth, revealing their ascent and eventual descent from power. Rashi quoting the Midrash Rabba explains that the location of the ladder and the timing of the vision describe the fact that “The angels who escorted him in the Land of Israel do not leave the Land but ascend to Heaven, and angels whose domain is outside of Israel descend to accompany him.” Other views see the ladder as the pathway to spiritual elevation and like the “Nefesh haChaim”, see the ladder representing our individual yearning for spirituality. The Zohar simply sees it as representing Prayer.
Yet there is another layer of understanding , as well .In the midst of Yaacov’s running away from Esau and in the midst of vision of the ladder , he is promised “great things” by G-d
And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed. And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”( ibid:14-15)
Why is it that we then read the following?
And Yaacov awakened from his sleep, and he said, “Indeed, HaShem is in this place, and I did not know [it].” (ibid 6)
Is it possible that the man raised and educated in the house of Isaac and Rebecca did not know that HaShem is everywhere
And then we read ; If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear and I come again to my father’s house in peace; Hashem will be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house; and of all that You give me I will surely give one tenth to You. (ibid 28:20-22)
Was G-d’s promise not enough for Yaacov? In spite of all the promises, Yaacov felt unworthy. Yaacov thought that perhaps some sin or inaction on his part would deflect him from this destiny. Yaacov was set to go into exile, a world seemingly so devoid of G-d’s immanent Presence, and as a result he was not sure he had the strength and tenacity to live up to his mission
In that sense we are all Yaacov.As a result of the mistakes and downturns in our lives, we may have begun to feel so unworthy . As a result of that sense we can sometimes turn even further away from our G-d and our purpose. The prophet Isaiah says ” But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.”( Isaiah 59:2)
Yet , we forget, that sin does not keep G-d away from man, sin keep man away from G-d. It is because We feel so unworthy that we feel that we cannot even “look upon His face “In the words of the prophet Ezekiel ” Now you, son of man, say to the house of Israel; So have you spoken, saying: For our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and because of them we are melting away, so how can we live?(Ezekiel 33:10). Yet that is not the reality of our lives.
So G-d gives Yaacov and us, his descendants, a sign, the ladder.
Yaacov being told that, in spite of his lowly state and difficult present situation, he will always have before him a ladder that can bring him to the highest of heights. There will never be a place of utter despair.
This helps explain Yaacov’s next statement: “And Yaacov awakened out of his sleep, and he said: ‘surely HaShem is in this place; and I knew it not.’ ”
HaShem is not only in this place and in this situation but rather, He and His ladder would be available in all locations and in all situations. The ladder then is made up of all its understandings. It reflects destiny, spiritual growth and prayer.
Yet its most important message is an awareness of What and Who is standing above the ladder waiting for mankind to begin the ascent;” And behold, HaShem was standing over him, and He said, “I am HaShem, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac”(Genesis 28:13)