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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayetze

Parashat Vayetze

The Danger of the Fear of High Places

When Yaakov woke from his dream he was fearful - Why?; Radak's explanation; Understanding this parshia with the Midrash's help.
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After Yaakov awoke from the dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder to the heavens, his reaction is described in a curious way. "Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Indeed, Hashem is present in this place, and I did not know.’ He was fearful and said, ‘How awesome is this place; this is none other than the House of G-d, and this is the gateway to the heavens’" (Bereishit 28:16-17).

To what is Yaakov’s fear a reaction? Is the fear one of the conclusions to the lessons he received by means of the dream? If so, mention of the fear should have prefaced the entire statement. Also, why should Yaakov be afraid after he was promised that Hashem would protect him wherever he went? The Radak (ad loc.) tries to explain that the fear was part of the reaction to the holiness of the place, not the content of the dream, but the location of the mention of the fear is still not addressed.

It is possible that these problems are that which brought the midrashim to explain the context of the fear as a hint of a fundamental problem which arose. "We learn from here that Hashem showed Yaakov the guardian angel of Bavel ascending and descending; that of Yavan (Greece) ascending and descending; that of Rome ascending and descending. Hashem said to Yaakov: ‘You too can ascend.’ At that time, Yaakov was fearful and said: ‘Maybe, just as these descend, so will I.’ Hashem said to him: ‘Do not fear. If you ascend, you will not descend forever.’ Yet Yaakov did not believe and did not ascend" (Vayikra Rabba 29:2). The midrash goes on to relate that Hashem told Yaakov that now that he did not ascend, his offspring would be subjugated by the four, aforementioned empires with taxes of all sorts and worse. At that point, Yaakov was afraid that he would never ascend, to which Hashem replied with the pasuk in Yirmiya (30:10): "Do not fear, my servant Yaakov, I will save you from distant [places]."

The lesson for all generations that we see from this episode is that the level of one’s belief is that which determines the level of Divine Providence one will experience. When one merits hearing the Divine voice telling him to ascend, if he has enough confidence in Hashem to carry out the mission, he actually saves himself from unnecessary dangers and complications in the future. These Divine voices need not be as explicit as those that Yaakov heard. The individual and certainly the leader are thrust into situations where they have to decide how to deal with the tests and challenges.

We pray that we will all merit to ascend in such a way that we will not have to descend.
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