Parashat Vayetze – Erev Shabbat 12 November 2021 (5782)
Week of 7-13 November 2021
Torah portion : Genesis 28 :10 -32:3 Haftarah: Hosea 12:13-14 : 10
Theme: Ladder or Stairway to Heaven
This Torah portion, Parashat Vayetsei (“ And he went out”) includes the Torah’s greatest love story. In it, the lovers, Rachel and Jacob figure as doubles, as their lives parallel in many ways. In this commentary, I am going to concentrate on Jacob’s dream. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached the sky, and angels of God were going up and down (Gen. 28:12). It brings back memories of our dear departed Br Jack Driscoll’s often repeated remark that we had special angels looking after us while we were in Israel, and they would ascend when we returned to our home countries. Others would then descend to take their place.
The Midrash that this comment is based on is from Genesis Rabbah 68:12. From it, we learn that one set of angels was leaving Jacob and a different set would accompany him outside the Land. As Mordechai Kaplan states:” Jews have different concerns and different priorities outside the Land than they have when living in it. We need different “angels to guide us” (Etz Hayim p.166n).
The dreams mentioned in Scripture are all vehicles of prophecy. Among prophetic symbols, Jacob’s ladder is probably one of the most memorable. Early interpreters found Jacob’s vision particularly puzzling. What was the dream intended to communicate? Interpreters concluded that the ladder was a symbolic message about the future, Jacob’s own or his descendants. (Kugel: The Bible as it Was p.211).
While Jacob sleeps he sees a stairway. It is the more accurate way of translating the Hebrew term sullam whichis related to the Akkadian word simmiltu which means ‘ladder’ or a stairway ramp. Either way, the meaning is the same. The image of a ladder recalls the Mesopotamian high towers (known as Ziggurats) which were temples built in the hope that the gods would use them to come down from heaven upon the worshippers (African Bible p.61). Baal HaTurim points out the gematria (numerical value) of the word for ladder is equal to the word Kol, voice, i.e. 130. (Feinstein: Kol Dodi p 55). From this, it is possible to offer an interesting symbolism: just as the ladder in Jacob’s dream connected earth to heaven so the voices of humans are the vehicles that connect them to heaven, for prayers ascend and are heard in heaven. The numerical sum of each letter is also the same as the word Sinai. Mount Sinai connects heaven and earth and can be seen as a ladder, instead of angels going up and down, Moses performs that mission and brings God’s message to the people below. We also ascend towards God step by step, as if by ladder, making one small change in our lives at a time before moving up another rung and slowly becoming more the person God wants us to be. Eventually, we shall reach heaven. The angels play no role in the dream except that they ascend and descend the ladder. This probably reflects the notion of angelic beings who patrol the earth and report back to God.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1). Jacob left home. Do you think that leaving one’s home is a requisite for finding oneself? 2). Do you think that God still speaks through dreams? 3). What are the dangers of relying on dreams for guidance?
Bibliography: Coleman: Serendipity Bible. Zondervan Pub. House Grand Rapids (1999); Eskennazi Weiss The Torah, a Woman’s commentary. URJ Press (2008); Feinstein.D. Kol Dodi Artscroll (1992); Lieber. Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); African Bible. Paulines (Kenya 2004).
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Marie André Mitchell SNDdeN. BA, BTh, M.R.S. Bat Kol alumna