“The Ariz’al stresses that Jacob has two identities: Jacob and Israel. This is an idea with which we are familiar from the biblical text. The Ariz’al explains that Jacob was...Read More
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Yaakov was embarking on a journey, leaving home and venturing out into a hostile world, with many dangerous challenges lying in wait. He was fleeing from the vengeful anger of his brother, Eisav (Esau), and his destination was Avraham’s family, who lived in Haran – a family led by Lavan, a man known for his deceptive and unscrupulous behavior. And so Yaakov encountered many different and difficult challenges throughout his life, but in this week’s portion, he is given a gift from God – the gift of a vision that sustained him throughout his life.
One night, on his journey to Haran, he lay down and had the famous prophetic vision we call “Jacob’s Ladder”. The ladder rests on the ground and reaches into the heavens, and there are angels ascending and descending. God appears to Yaakov in the vision and promises to look after him on his journey ahead, and to return him back to the land of Israel, and to his heritage.
The commentators on the Chumash share different perspectives on what the ladder and the angels going up and down signify. Common to all of them, however, is the idea that the ladder is a bridge between heaven and earth. And this is the great Divine vision of the Torah and the mission statement of the Jewish people – to connect heaven and earth, to infuse the physical world with holiness and spirituality, and so elevate all of creation.
Everyone needs a vision. We all need a vision to give us direction and inspiration in life. Life can’t just be about surviving. It has to be about the goals and the aspirations and the big picture that we are striving for. There are too many challenges and opportunities in the path of life not to have clarity of vision. In this week’s parsha, Vayeitzei, we read about a great vision that was given to our forefather, Yaakov (Jacob), and it is a vision which sustains us to this very day.
People often believe themselves to be limited by their circumstances. But what we see here is that having a vision – a great, lofty Divine vision that we dedicate ourselves to – can enable us to transcend those circumstances. It can inspire us and guide us and transform the world in which we find ourselves.
This is the vision that Jacob took with him on all his journeys; the same lofty, life-affirming, transformative vision that has accompanied the Jewish people on all of our journeys, both national and personal. It is the vision that makes us who we are, and has held us all together throughout the generations.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein