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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayetze

Dream A Little Dream

What is the secret of Yakov’s ability to survive all the ups and downs? How does he maintain his strength and his faith - by remembering his dream, and the fact that the angels are always there with him!
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Yakov – like his favorite son Yosef – is a dreamer (as are all great people!). His most famous dream, of course, is that of the sulam, the ladder embedded in the ground of Mt. Moriah (the future home of the Bet HaMikdash) and extending up to the heavens. Yakov sees the angels ascending and descending upon it.

So many explanations have been given for this vivid vision that I could not hope to name them all. But, it seems to me, the best idea is the simplest idea: The ladder represents the "ups and downs" in a person’s life.

This is a particularly appropriate metaphor for Yakov, for in his tumultuous life, he will experience the highest highs and the lowest lows that a human being can know. He will fall deeply in love with his beloved Rachel, working 14 years for her hand in marriage, but he will see her die young, in childbirth. He will raise the most magnificent family in our history – the 12 holy tribes of Israel – yet that very same family will be filled with intense jealousy and divisiveness, culminating with the kidnapping and sale of Yosef. Yakov will struggle mightily to return to Eretz Yisrael, where he knows a Jew must live, yet will descend again into exile, spending the last 17 years of his life in depraved Egypt.

Of course, what happens to Yakov is not just his own personal struggle, but is exactly parallel to what will occur to his future descendants, Am Yisrael, the Jewish People. We, too, will undergo the depths of suffering and degradation, as well as the most cosmic of "highs." Our nation will be decimated by countless wanderings, pogroms and Holocausts, yet we will also produce the brightest minds in the universe, embody the timeless treasure of the Torah, and eventually return in glory to the modern, magnificent State of Israel.

In short, we would perfectly represent the blessing that was given by Hashem to the Avot, that we would be "like the dust of the earth, and the stars of the heavens." At times, we find ourselves as low as the dust, trampled upon by others; yet at other times we shine like the brightest star in the sky, everyone "looking up to us" with envy and respect.

What is the secret of Yakov’s ability to survive all these ups and downs? How does he maintain his strength and his faith; how does he manage to keep his equilibrium while on this wild roller-coaster of an existence?

I suggest it is by remembering his dream, and the fact that the angels are always there with him, whether he is in a downward spiral, or buoyantly ascendant. He knows that G-d is there, by his side, accompanying him and watching over him. And that knowledge - that he never goes it alone - helps Yakov - and us! – keep going, step-by-step, towards our dream.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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