9 Kislev 5783
What does Jacob’s Ladder Symbolize?
The beauty that I find in our community, Kehilat She’ar Yashuv and that our rabbi always brought to our attention is that we are not a religious group that censors outside ideas and that although we have unity, we are not stuck in uniformity in how we see the Torah. This week, Sr. Alvarado has found an article on Vayetze from a website in Argentina called https://www.tora.org.ar/vaietze-3/ that moved him. There are parts that were hard for me to translate properly into English, and I am not sure that I did it justice. However, Sr. Alvarado has assured me that during our group discussion after our service, he is prepared to answer any questions we may have to clarify his message. We are so grateful to have a body of teachers who can present how to live the Torah in such variety of ways.
He begins his message with the first verses of Genesis 28: 10 – 11. “Yaakov left Beersheba and went towards Haran. He found himself in the place and spent the night there, since the sun had set. He took some of the stones from the place and arranged them behind his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder resting on the earth and its end reached the heavens and the angels of the LORD ascended and descended on it ».
There are many interpretations for this Torah portion. One of them is that the place where Jacob stopped to rest is believed to be Mount Moriah, where the Temple in Jerusalem was built. Thus, the Ladder would symbolize the “bridge” between Heaven and Earth, established through the covenant that God made with the Jewish people, and fortified by the prayers and sacrifices made at the Temple. In addition, the ladder would represent the Torah, as a new link between heaven and earth. The Hebrew term for “ladder”, sulam – סלם – and that of Mount Sinai – סיני – where the Torah was given, have, in Gematria, the same numerical value of their letters.
Yaakov was escaping his past, from his lies, from his deceit, from being the person who didn’t like himself. There he dreams, there he finds that things can be different. He finds God in his life, and he realizes that the place where we find ourselves is at the house of God, it is “Hamakom”, the place for us to seek His presence. A ladder that unites heaven with earth, the spiritual with the earthly, teaches us that the physical is not the only reality and that only by adding the spiritual dimension, can one manage to connect with the purest reality of oneself. The Angels represent the Tefilla, that same search for spirituality in our lives, to fill them, to complete them, to make them more meaningful.
The geography of the Torah is also spiritual. The movements of Torah personalities indicate the movements of the Neshama (the soul) in its process of creating harmony with the Creator. The land of Canaan implies the material, emotional, mental, and spiritual space where the neshama has all the potential of achieving its objective. The movements of the patriarchs represent the challenges that the neshama must face in its spiritual journey.
And in the middle, the stone; the stone represents life’s difficulties, our stubbornness, our pride that do not allow us to open ourselves to the Divine. We think that if it isn’t physical and we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist; that there is shame in thinking or showing that we are sensitive or don’t believe that we can connect with our spirituality, that it is an unnecessary stone! Quite the contrary, how necessary it is to know that these stones do exist.
The stones reveal the passive, the mineral kingdom that does not have its own movement and therefore depends upon an external will to move. On the other hand, the human mind indicates the greatest potential of creation. Yaakov knew that he was leaving the land of Canaan with one objective: to reveal the wisdom that harmonizes all of reality, both to passive individuals who depend on the will of others to make decisions and to the most brilliant of minds. How do we harmonize a creation that encompasses individuals with such different characteristics? Yaakov understood that the intellectual and/or form difference is only an external aspect. The true essence of the soul is the desire to achieve infinite harmony, before which each human being forms a unique, sacred aspect and therefore is essential to complete the great universal puzzle.
“…and behold a ladder with its feet fixed on the earth, and its top reaching up to heaven; and behold, God’s angels are ascending and descending on it” (28:12) Man is like that ladder. Man’s feet are “fixed on the ground” in the physical world out of necessity. He has the obligation to take care of his material existence. However, if whatever he does is out of love for Heaven, then “his head reaches heaven.” Our actions in this world directly influence the way in which the spiritual realm interacts with creation. We can tip the balance towards the positive or the negative: “angels of God ascend and descend” Even the angels depend on the ladder that man creates through his actions in this world. Man is the dominant force and focus of all creation. He even has the power to lower the angels or elevate them.
May the Creator give us the wisdom and the desire to connect Earth to Heaven through our prayers and our actions in order to fulfill the purpose for which our souls travel through this world and our life.
Discussion group after the message: https://youtu.be/sU1Uox_iyfc