Sunday, November 22, 2009

Parashat VaYetze - The Ladder

Parashat VaYetze
Bereishit 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah Hoshea 12:13 - 14:10

The Ladder

Bereishit 28:10 Ya'akov left Be'er Sheva and went toward Charan.  11 He reached the place and spent the night there because the sun had set.  He took some of the stones of that place, and arranged them around his head, and lay down [to sleep] in that place.  12 He dreamed, and behold a ladder stood on earth and its head was in heaven; and behold angels of Elo-him were ascending and descending on it.

The ladder that Yaakov saw was also symbolic of Yisrael's future.  G-d thus disclosed to Yaakov the entire future of the Jewish nation.

The ladder symbolizes the Great Altar [that stood in the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim].  Although it "stood on the ground," its "head was in heaven."  The fragrance of the sacrifices would ascend on high, and G-d would cherish them very much.  The "angels of G-d were ascending and descending" allude to the kohen (priest) who would offer the sacrifices [climbing to the top of the altar, and going down again].  (Bereishit Rabbah; Zohar Chadash)

The ladder also symbolized the revelation at Sinai, and the fact that the Torah would be brought down from heaven there.  The numerical value of the Hebrew word for "ladder," sulam is 130 - the same as that for Sinai.  The "angels" allude to Moshe and Aharon, who "ascended" to heaven and "descended" with the Torah.  They are properly referred to as "angels of G-d" since prophets are also called angels.  [The Hebrew word for angel, malach also means messenger.] (Tanchuma, VaYishlach.  Cf. BaMidbar 20:16)

Also alluded to here is the exile of the Yisraelim (Israelites) and the destruction of the Holy Temple.  The Jews would suffer very much in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, who would make an idol sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (Dani'el 3:1).  [The letters of sulam, meaning "ladder" are the same as those of semel, meaning "statue" or "idol." ]  The "angels" were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who "descended" into the fiery furnace, and "ascended" unscathed. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Yaakov's vision also teaches that the world is like a ladder, where some people "ascend" while others "descend."  Some people become wealthy and attain status, while others become poor. (Ibid.)

G-d also showed Yaakov that although he was lying on the bare ground, without even a pillow for his head, in the end, his "head would reach to the heavens."

G-d also showed Yaakov the form of the Holy Temple as it was built by Melech Shlomo.  He then showed it destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again.  Finally, He showed Yaakov how it would be rebuilt in the Messianic age, and then last forever.

Yaakov was also shown all the guardian angels of the great empires.  The angel of the Babylonian Empire climbed up 70 rungs and then went down.  The angel of the Persian Empire climbed 52 rungs and descended.  The Greek Empire's angel climbed 180 rungs before it fell.  The angel was able to climb a rung for each year that its empire would endure; then it would descend to indicate that the empire would fall.

Yaakov then saw the angel of Edom (Rome, western civilization) climbing the ladder, and he could not count how many rungs it climbed.  He did not see it come down again.  Very startled, he said, "But that is terrible.  The civilization will last forever."  "Do not fear, Yaakov," replied G-d.  "Although Edom's angel will climb until he is near the Throne of Glory, I will cast him down too.  But you too will have to climb the ladder."  Ya'akov was terrified.  "What good is it to climb the ladder and to go down again like these angels?"  "I promise you," said G-d, "that you will ascend and never descend."  Still, Yaakov was insecure and he did not want to climb the ladder.  It was then decreed that his descendants would go into exile four times, one for each of the empires that he saw. (Pirkei rabbi Eliezer; Tanchuma; Ramban; Yalkut Shimoni)

In general, Yaakov saw the entire future in this dream.  He saw the angels of each nation "ascending" and "descending." (Bachya) 

This was Ya'akov's dream.


Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez, Rabbi Yaakov Culi, Vol. Bereishit 3a

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