Midreshet Amit


Back to Main Page

The Ladder

By: Reb Norman Meskin

He (Jacob) had a vision in a dream: A ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached up toward heaven. God's angels were going up and down on it.

Jacob’s dream about the ladder reaching heavenward is probably one of the most interpreted sequences in all of Chumash. Practically every commentator and “darshan” and orator and pulpit Rabbi has tried his hand at providing a homiletic and timely interpretation of this dream.

This plethora of interpretations embodies the notion that there are “seventy faces to the Torah”: That when it comes to the interpretation of the narrative portions of Torah, in particular, many and varied perspectives are expected and not seen as “contradictory” but rather as “complimentary.”

I think that for girls in seminaries like Midreshet Amit, this dream accurately describes the opportunities that are placed before them during their year in Israel and the challenges they face in seizing those opportunities and achieving their goals.

The ladder clearly describes the two major components of human existence: the necessity to function in the real world as a part of nature like all other organisms and the obligation to rise above the mundane and physical and to seek purpose and increase sanctity in that same real world.

The parable emphasizes the fact that the abandonment of either of these goals at the expense of the other can only lead to catastrophe. The ladder must remain grounded on the earth while simultaneously reaching toward the heavens.

Celibacy and vows of poverty, as in Catholicism, and asceticism and the like are not part of the Judaic ethos. Jews must be a part of this world and must enjoy the wonders and delights that Hashem has bequeathed to it.

The ladder is not an escalator or ramp: It does not represent a continuous, smooth ride upwards! It has rungs so one must, by necessity, move forward “one step at a time” and not by “leaps and bounds.” If one tries to skip a rung here and there, one is likely to fall. Growth in Torah and religious observance is best achieved by slow, steady progress and by quantum leaps!

The angels of Hashem that Jacob sees going up and down on the ladder represent an honest appraisal of the actual progress that people make during their climb heavenward. Progress is not linear; it is not constant; it is not always forward-going. This can be disconcerting.

There are times when one needs to or is forced to take a step backward before being able to proceed. There are personal and spiritual crises that need to dealt with. These are all healthy occurrences, although they may be disheartening in the moment. They are called “life.”

To question - to ask - to doubt - to cry: these are legitimate responses and emotions that are experienced during this sublime quest. Without them, the journey is bound to be superficial and unrewarding.

The key is to always strive to be better, for we are judged ultimately, not on the quality of the hand we were dealt, but on how we played our hand!