The motif of this week’s parasha is articulated in the story of Jacob’s Ladder. It begins with a simple, yet enigmatic illustration of the dream that Jacob has as he flees from his brother Esau, who had threatened to kill him (Gen. 28:10-12):
וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה׃
Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran.
וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא׃
He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹק֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃
He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and messengers of God were going up and down on it.
In a very profound description, we see an inversion of what we expect to read: angels ascending BEFORE descending.
The assumption might be that angels are of ‘the heavens’ and so, even allegorically, we would expect them to come down from heaven first, before returning there. But the verse clearly states that the opposite is true.
Rashi (11th century) interprets it in terms of the nature of the angels and their specific tasks:
עלים וירדים – ASCENDING AND DESCENDING — It states first ascending and afterwards descending! Those angels who accompanied him in the land of Israel were not permitted to leave the Land: they ascended to Heaven, and angels which were to minister outside the Land descended to accompany him (Genesis Rabbah 68:12).
Sforno (16th century Italy) explains another facet that we need to hear in the difficult days:
והנה מלאכי אלוקים עולים ויורדים..והנה ה’ נצב עליו, AND BEHOLD ANGELS OF GOD WERE ASCENDING AND DESCENDING… – this foreshadowed the future when the “angels of God” the superpowers who had become very powerful in our world would begin their decline and end up at the bottom of the rungs of the ladder. The Lord God Who stood above the ladder is the symbol of the promise that God will never abandon the Jewish people, as we know from Jeremiah 46,28 כי אעשה כלה בכל הגויים ואותך לא אעשה כלה, “even when I utterly destroy all the gentile nations, I will not destroy you.”
There have been immensely tragic days in our recent past, and there will be difficult days ahead, but God has ultimately promised, time and again, that he will never forsake us or destroy us.
He has brought us this far in the unfolding history of humanity, with tremendous lows, but also exceptional highs.
We will climb to great heights again – even greater than the ones we are seeing today.
We will be joined on Tuesday by people of courage and strength who did not ask for the challenges they are facing, but they face them with determination and faith and love. Don’t forget to join us to support them.
Jacob symbolises the struggle of the diaspora. We worry and we struggle.
But we prevail.
Am Yisrael ChaiMore >