I hope you will join us for Friday night services as we celebrate Shabbat and as we continue to mark Thanksgiving weekend.
Imagine the fear that gripped Jacob’s heart as he began his lonely flight from his family and from his home to far-away Haran. This is the story which opens our weekly Torah portion of Vayetze. Running away from the wrath of his brother, Esau, and from his native environment, Jacob suddenly runs out of strength. Lying down on the ground, using a stone for a pillow, Jacob falls asleep and, while he was asleep, he has an amazing dream.
Rather than dream of revenge, or of a struggle, Jacob dreams of a ladder planted firmly on the ground with the rungs of the ladder streaching all the way to the heavens. And, angels are seen to be “olim v’yordim” [ascending and descending] the rungs of the ladder. Note the order of their motion. First, the angels ascend. Then, they descend!
Our Sages noticed that in the Biblical narrative of Jacob’s dream, the first mention of the angels was of the angels ascending the ladder. Only after that, did they descend. But, if Jacob’s angels were heavenly angels, how is it that they ascend the ladder, climbing from earth toward the heavens, before they are seen in Jacob’s dream to be descending from the heavens toward the earth? Don’t heavenly angels come from heaven? So, how is it that Jacob’s angels seemed to originate from the earth, rather than from the heavens? What kind of angels are these?
Perhaps, the answer to this question lies in Jacob’s state of mind as he falls asleep.
Remember that Jacob is running for his life. He is isolated and alone and living in fear. He is exhausted. His strength is sapped not only by the journey, but also by his extremely strong emotions. And, in that state of mind, Jacob lies down to sleep and has this amazing dream. And, in his dream, Jacob uncovers an important message.
What is that message?
The message is that there are different kinds of angels. There are heavenly angels and there are earthly angels. And, when we are confronting our fears, the first thing we must do is to muster our earthly angels, our own spiritual strength, our own human determination, to meet the fears that afflict us. The angels ascending the ladder from earth toward the heavens symbolize that determination, that mustering of our internal earthly angels, to help us confront our fears. Only then, will the heavenly angels be revealed to us. Only then will we be able to see the heavenly angels that descend to strengthen our efforts as we strive to overcome our fears and to meet our challenges.
Jacob saw the earthly angels ascend the ladder before he was able to see the heavenly angels descending.
By celebrating Shabbat and Thanksgiving with a full heart, we are inviting our inner earthly angels to rise up the ladder of our consciousness. By opening our hearts to gratitude for the everyday blessings of life even when life is stressful, we enable ourselves to see heavenly angels descending and bringing us more joy, more light, more comfort and more healing.
Jacob’s amazing dream didn’t change his life situation. It did, however, give him renewed energy and courage.
May our reading of Jacob’s dream, coupled with our celebration of Shabbat and of Thanksgiving weekend, awaken our earthly angels, allowing us to appreciate the blessings of life, and give us all renewed energy and courage as we move forward toward a better future.
Rabbi Gilah Dror
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