“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set upon the earth and the top of it reached to heavens; and behold the angels of Hashem ascending and descending on it.”
The parsha describes in detail Yakov’s dream that of the angels ascending and descending the ladder which joins heaven and earth. Rashi’s comment focuses on the sequence. First, the angels caring for Yakov and the people living in the land ascend, since Yakov is about to leave its borders. Then, the angels responsible for the welfare of Yakov, the Jews outside of Israel descend so that Yakov will not be without protection.
This is the usual interpretation of the text. In this interpretation the Hebrew word bo means “on it”, referring to the ladder. The angels ascended and descended on it – the ladder.
However the word bo can also be understood as “on him.” Thus understood, our text means that the angels were ascending and descending on him – Yakov himself. With this interpretation, it is Yakov who becomes the ladder joining heaven and earth. He is at once to be planted firmly on the ground and at the same time to have his head in the heavens. By synthesizing materiality and spirituality he becomes a medium for angelic ascent and descent.
In our traditions we placed the human either in the material realm or in the spiritual. In our faith, Judaism mediates these two extremes, to include the human as an amalgam of matter and spirit. Both have legitimate roles. If the amalgam is effective, the human can reach the heavens with feet planted firmly on the ground. If legitimate material concerns are balanced by lofty spiritual aspirations, the human being can become a channel through which diving energy flow from heaven to the earth and the earth to heaven.
In meditating on these lofty ideals we are faced today with a horrible and deadly scenario unfolding all around the world and in particular in our land of Israel. Many of us have children and family living within her borders, myself included. A day doesn’t go by without worry and prayer that Hashem should help us connect the dots between heaven and earth and keep our families and loved ones safe. We must have our feet firmly planted on the earth understanding and grappling with the terror and horror around us while reaching for the heavens in hopes that sanity and reason will eventually prevail. It is only with the challenge of bringing heaven and earth together will we be able to survive. This is our challenge and Yakov’s vision.
Rabbi Gabe Elias