In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, Yaakov must spend the night on Har Moriah. The Torah tells us, “And he (Yaakov) dreamed, and envisioned a ladder set on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.”
Our sages note the image of the ladder and use it to express many Jewish concepts. For example, the ladder symbolizes money. A person earns his livelihood from various activities “on the ground.” Yet if he gives part of that money for charity, he (and his funds) are able to reach “the heavens.” In other words, his work and his earnings are elevated to the most exalted levels of holiness through charity.
Similarly, when a person prays, the thoughts and words expressed by man on earth have the power to reach up to the heavens. These sincere prayers can elicit blessings which are symbolized by the “angels descending below.”
Yet there is another lesson one can learn.
To achieve success in life, whether it relates to prayer or learning or any other activity, one must start on the ground but at the same time keep one’s eyes on the goal. With that approach, you are bound to succeed.
One may ask: Do angels need a ladder? Everyone knows angels have wings, not feet. So why would they need a ladder?
There is a beautiful message here.
In climbing heavenward, one does not need wings. There is a ladder, a spiritual route clearly mapped out for us; a route that is traversed step by step, one rung at a time. The pathway to Heaven is gradual, methodical and eminently manageable.
Many people are discouraged from even beginning a spiritual journey because they think it requires a huge leap of faith. They cannot see themselves reaching a degree of religious commitment which to them seems otherworldly. And yet, with the gradual step-by-step approach, one finds that the destination is actually not in outer space but within your grasp.
A wise teacher once asked his students, “If two people are on a ladder, one at the top and one on the bottom, who is higher?” The class thought it was a pretty dumb question — until the wise teacher explained that they were not really capable of judging who was higher or lower until they first ascertained in which direction each was headed.
If the fellow on top was descending, but the one the bottom was ascending, then conceptually, the one on the bottom was actually higher.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what your starting point is or where you are on the ladder of life. As long as you keep moving in the right direction, you will, please G-d, succeed in climbing to heavenly heights. Good Shabbos! PJC
Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum is CEO of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and rabbi of Congregation Kesser Torah. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.