Jacob' s ladder: A stairway to and from heaven

This week's dvar Torah is by Simon Lawrence, Director of Jewish Studies at Carmel School in Perth, Western Australia.

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This Dvar Torah is written in honour of my daughter Hannah’s Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat

One of the first places in our beautiful city of Perth that is visited by tourists, is King’s Park. Situated in the North East corner of the park, is a 242 step climb, known as Jacob’s Ladder. It is a popular site with athletes as they challenge themselves to race up the incline in the fastest possible time. In my youth, I would have struggled with it - “kal va’chomer” today!

Jacob’s dream has given rise to vivid imagery and a great deal of worldly cultural expression. Aside from King’s Park in Perth, there is Ezra Orion’s fabulous Sulam Yaacov, (Jacob’s Ladder) sculpture near Givat Mordechai in Yerushalayim, as well as numerous famous paintings dedicated to Yaacov’s dream. There is even a 1990 horror movie called “Jacob’s Ladder”! Additionally, there are several impressive educational organizations worldwide known as “Sulam Yaacov

So why all the fuss? Why does a fairly innocuous story that takes up a few verses, psukim, of the Torah play such a large role in world cultural expression?

It is perhaps due to the multiple messages that the vivid imagery of this dream conjures up and the practical applications of these messages in our lives.

Chazal, our Sages, provide us with numerous explanations as to the significance of the dream. These include:

The Midrashic idea that the rungs of the ladder represent the years of that foreign powers will reign over Israel and the angels represent those foreign powers.

Ramban’s idea that the angels ascend the ladder in order to receive orders from Hashem as to what to carry out on earth. They then descend the ladder in order to carry out Hashem’s word.

That the dream represents the greatness of Eretz Yisrael as expounded by Rashi and the Abarbanel.

A further explanation is offered by the Midrash which explains that the situation in the dream was a representation of Matan Torah (the words “sulam” – ladder and “Sinai” have the same numerical value of 130). The angels represent Moshe and Aaron. Hashem is positioned at the top of the ladder and Moshe and Aaron are transmitting the word of Hashem to the people from Hashem. Thus, the Torah is a bridge from Hashem to Earth.

Rav Dovid Feinstein, in his weekly parasha book ‘Kol Dodi on the Torah’, notes that the Baal Haturim points out that the word “Kol” – voice, also has the gematria of 130 (when written without the vowel vav, ‘chaser vav’). Rav Dovid explains that just as the ladder connected the Earth to Heaven allowing the angels to ascend and descend on it, so too our voice is the vehicle which connects us to Hashem – allowing our prayers, tefillot, to be heard in Heaven so to speak.

Back to the idea that the Torah itself is a bridge from Hashem to Earth.

An extension of this idea could be viewed through the prism of the idea of “lo beshamaiym hi” – the Torah is not in Heaven (Devarim 30:12). The Torah is given to human beings, and whilst it contains lofty and spiritual ideas and truths, we have to ensure that the application of the Torah is firmly rooted to the ground. Indeed, the Torah describes the ladder as being “mutzav artza” - rooted to the ground.

This idea can be applied in many practical ways in our own lives.

First, we should strive to remember that the Torah is a guidebook for our lives. Whilst we often refer to the Torah as a blueprint for creation (a fairly lofty and esoteric idea), we should always ensure that we remind ourselves that the Torah contains very practical daily messages for US. The Torah is our hands-on manual, our moral compass and our spiritual GPS.

Secondly, we should remind ourselves daily that our tefillot are our spiritual cell phones, our pele-phones, our wonder-phones! Tefilla connects us to Hashem, gives us the ability to focus on ourselves, on our families, on our kehillot, on Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, and on the frightening state of the world today.

And furthermore, the Torah itself is our bridge between Heaven and Earth. Most of us will never experience prophecy of the level of Yaakov and thus we need the Torah to enable us to make the spiritual connection in our lives. Our relationship with the All Mighty is up to us to procure and develop.

As I write this, yet another murderous act has taken place in Israel. May our tefillot, our Torah learning and our good deeds, maasim tovim, act as a bridge between ourselves and Hashem. May our tefillot ascend the ladder to Hashem and our prayers for peace be answered. Speedily in our times, Bimheira beyameinu. Amen.

Mazal tov and best wishes for much nachat from Arutz Sheva to the Lawrence family.

Torah MiTzion (see their dynamic website) was established in 1995 with the goal of strengthening Jewish communities around the globe and infusing them with the love for Torah, the Jewish People and for the State of Israel. Over the past eighteen years Torah MiTzion has recruited, trained and dispatched more than one thousand 'shlichim' (emissaries) to Jewish communities in countries spanning five continents and impacted Jewish communities with an inspiring model of commitment to both Judaism and Zionism.