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Parsha Vayetzei

11/15/2018 08:37:24 PM


The main imagery in Yaakov’s famous dream in the beginning of the Parsha is the ladder, a great ladder that connected Heaven and Earth and featured angles ascending and descending on its rungs.  Although it is the ladder that has made Yaakov’s dream so famous, it is hard to see why the ladder had anything to do with God’s message in the dream that He would protect Yaakov, grant him a large family and nation, and give him the Land of Israel.  The ladder hardly seems to illustrate God’s words, and its’ image does not depict any clear additional message.


The Baal Haturim notes that the numerical value of Sulam, 136, is equal to the numerical value of Mamon- money.  What is the point of this observation? 


Our basic assumption is that the ladder in the dream represented something good, and that the ladder is metaphoric of the positive value of connecting Man with spiritual matters in Heaven.  Being that a ladder is a “rung by rung,” step by step connector between high and low, we associate the ladder with the Chinese adage: “a thousand mile journey begins with one step.”  Systematic and gradual, Yaakov’s ladder portrays spiritual growth as a process that can be likened to other growths in life where success often hinges upon a methodical and linear approach.    


Ironically, there are some clues from God’s words in the dream that speak of the exact opposite approach to spiritual growth that should perhaps make us rethink our basic assumptions about the ladder’s symbolism.  God says: “The land that you are lying upon I will give to your children,” and the Gemara explains that the entire Land of Israel was miraculously folded up to fit under Yaakov’s body.  God continues: “And your children will be widespread like the dust of the earth, and you will spread to the west, east, north, and south.”  God’s choice of word for “you will spread” is “ufaratzta,” which has the root of “peretz”-a breach, meaning that God was implying Yaakov would spread forth without limits, breaking all sorts of barriers, lines, and walls and establish his nation specifically on the theme of limitlessness.  The imagery here is a tiny piece of land that literally fits under Yaakov’s body suddenly growing beyond leaps and bounds, to echo the “ufaratzta” breakdown of limitation that would be the rapid increase of a Jewish nation.  While climbing a ladder rung by rung can is the systematic approach to growth that “unlocks” one door at a time, “ufaratzta” connotes the opposite approach of leaping ahead and “breaking” doors.


This theme is present in a well known Gemara in Shabbos 118, where the Gemara says: “Whoever delights in the Shabbos will merit a limitless “heritage,” as the Pasuk in Isiah says regarding Shabbos-“ Then you shall be granted pleasure with God, and I shall mount you astride the heights of the world, and provide you the heritage of your forefather Yaakov.”  In contrast to Avraham and Yitzchak, who were promised only limited portions of land, Yaakov’s portion was limitless, as noted in the Pasuk of “ufaratzta” in all directions.  “A limitless heritage” is the hallmark of Yaakov, the unique quality of breaking limits and expectations, and the spiritual delight in Shabbos is linked to this quality.  Although the rest of the workweek needs limits, systems, and guidelines, the spiritual day of Shabbos works differently, and delighting in this spirituality brings one limitless growth and reward.    


Based upon some of the Sefas Emes’s comments, perhaps it can be said that the ladder was actually a test for Yaakov and that God’s words in the dream were actually inconsistent with the imagery of the ladder.  The ladder showed a way of approaching spirituality like one approaches other areas of life, where one is rooted in place, and connects to something above them by climbing step by step.  The imagery of God appearing above Yaakov and bestowing the “ufaratzta” message is a different approach, where one leaps ahead and runs with God.  The ladder’s numerical value is the same as money, because its approach is similar to values one employs in business and material needs, of gradual increase that remains rooted to a core source.  Yaakov was “tested” with the imagery of the ladder, but he heard God’s message of using Torah to break barriers and leap beyond where he was, and it was this message that he chose for his children.  The Midrash says that God actually invited Yaakov to climb the ladder but that Yaakov refused the offer, perhaps because the prospect of “God standing over him” and Isiah’s promise that God will “mount you astride the heights of the world” were more promising and true to the nature of spiritual growth.  There is a time and place for taking small steps in spiritual growth and to employ the “ladder approach,” but it is important to realize the value of “ufaratzta” and the concept of Yaakov’s limitless heritage that turns moments of inspiration into leaps of growth.   

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782