Powered by WebAds

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Yaakov's ladder

A beautiful vort on the parsha is told over by Rav Yosef Carmel:

When Yaakov's dream is over, Yaakov wakes up and reacts (בראשית כח:טז):

וַיִּיקַץ יַעֲקֹב מִשְּׁנָתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה' בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי

And Yaakov awaked out of his sleep, and he said: 'Surely the Hashem is in this place; and I knew it not.'

The Torah add immediately after (שם יז)
וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אלוקים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם

And he was afraid, and said: 'How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.'

What is the meaning of this fear? Is it connected to the realization in the previous pasuk? What makes it even more difficult to understand this fear is Hashem's promise to Yaakov in the dream (שם טו):
וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי לָך

And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.'

What room is there for Yaakov to fear after such a clear promise. The Radak explains the fear as awe in the face of that which is lofty. To the Radak, the fear is a result of the amazing vision that he saw and his perception of the holiness of the location in which he was.

Chazal, however, see this fear as a result of a result of a particular interpretation of the dream. The dream, according to the midrash, is not just one that relates to Yaakov as an individual but rather on that relates to the entire history of the Jewish people. The angels are not just guardians for Yaakov the Tzaddik but rather representatives of the various nations and empires the Jewish people will encounter throughout their history.

Lets look at the text of the midrash (ויקרא רבה כט:ב):
אמר רבי ברכיה ור' חלבו ור' שמעון בן יוחאי בשם ר' מאיר מלמד שהראה הקב"ה ליעקב שרה של בבל עולה ויורד של מדי עולה ויורד ושל יון עולה ויורד ושל אדום עולה ויורד. אמר הקב"ה ליעקב אף אתה עולה, באותה שעה נתיירא יעקב אבינו ואמר שמא ח"ו כשם שלאלו ירידה אף לי כן, אמר לו הקב"ה ואתה אל תירא אם אתה עולה אין לך ירידה עולמית לא האמין ולא עלה

Rabbi Barchia and Rabbi Chelbo and Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai all said in the name of Rabbi Meir: This teaches that Hashem showed Yaakov the representative angel of Bavel go up and go down, the [angel of] Madai go up and go down, the [angel of] Yavan go up and go down, and [the angel] of Edom go up and go down. Hashem said to Yaakov: 'you shall also go up,' at that moment Yaakov [became] afraid and said: 'perhaps, just as these [angels] also descended, the same will happen to me.' Hashem answered him: 'You, don't fear. If you ascend, you shall never descend.' Yaakov did not believe and he did not ascend.

In order to live as a free nation in their own land, the nation had to struggle with various empires: Babylon, Persian, Helenism/Greek, and Roman. The struggle was harsh and at times the darkness of exile and the suffering seemed to have no end. Nations that received world domination seemed to have received the right to rule for all times. In the dream of Yaakov is a great message that after every ascension of an empire, it will eventually descend. All these Empires crumbled and are no more. Yaakov's invitation to ascend implies that in the end of the road, in the end of days, the nation that comes from him and which will bring the world to its perfection
might also share the same fate as these empires.

Whoever ascended to the top of the ladder in the end came crumbling down. This is what Yaakov feared and this fear affected all subsequent generations! Jewish history could have been very different if Yaakov would have found courage and ascended. This idea is made even more explicit in the end of the midrash:
א"ר ברכיה ור' חלבו בשם רשב"י ר' מאיר היה דורש...אמר לו הקב"ה אלו האמנת ועלית עוד, לא ירדת ועכשיו שלא האמנת ולא עלית עתידין בניך שיהו משתעבדין בד' מלכיות בעולם הזה במסים ובארנוניות ובזימיות ובגלגליות (כנראה מכשירי עינויים). באותה שעה נתיירא יעקב אמר לפני הקב"ה רבש"ע יכול לעולם אמר לו (ירמיה ל) ואל תחת ישראל כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק

Rabbi Barchia and Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai: Rabbi Meir would expound ... Hashem said to him [Yaakov]: 'If you would have believed and ascended more, you would not have descended. Now that you did not believe and did not ascend, your children are destines to be enslaved to the 4 empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) through various taxes and forms of torture.' At that moment Yaakov [became] afraid. He said to Hashem: 'Master of the Universe, could this [enslavement] be forever?' Hashem answered him: 'Don't fear Israel! For I shall save you from afar.'

The lesson we can get from this for all generations is that our level of Emuna is what decides the level of our achievements. When a person merits to hear the voice of Hashem commanding him 'Ascend!' and he believes and ascends, this is what allows him to be successful.

May we merit so see the ascent after which there will be no more falls.