The Former and the Ladder: Vayetze 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever had “your head in the clouds”? What does that feel like? What are the potential consequences of spending too much time in a dream-like state?

As our Torah portion, Vayetze, begins, Jacob is running away from harsh realities on Earth – so when he sleeps, he is treated to a taste of the heavens.

The Pitch: “[Jacob] had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.” – Genesis 28:12

Swing #1: “If a man regards himself as humble, ‘set on the ground,’ then ‘his head will reach heaven.’ God will consider him truly great. As the Holy Zohar puts it: ‘He who is small is actually great.’ Then, too, he will deserve to have ‘the Lord stand beside him,’ [Verse 13] to have the Shekhina hover over him, as it is written: ‘I dwell among the humble.’” – Orakh LeHayyim

Swing #2: “The stairway [sulam in Hebrew] was a symbol of Sinai [sinai]. Both have the same numerical values [130].” – Genesis Rabbah

Swing #3: “And he dreamt that there was a ladder fixed in the earth and its top reached the heavens, and the two angels who had gone to Sodom and had been exiled from Heaven for having revealed secrets of the Master of the world and had thus been wandering about until Jacob left his father’s house, whereupon they lovingly accompanied him to Bethel – now they ascended to the upper heavens and called out: Come and see the faithful Jacob, whose portrait is fixed on the Glorious Throne, since you have desired to see him. Then the other holy angels of the Lord went down to see him.” – Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Late-Inning Questions: What ideas to our commentaries associate with Jacob’s ladder? Is it significant that even though Jacob dreams of the ladder, he never actually climbs it? Does this episode foreshadow the extent to which Jacob is “grounded”, and the extent to which he wishes to ascend to a higher plain? How do we best balance our dreams with our realities?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I look forward to another text study and discussion about the aftermath of last month’s elections. If you weren’t able to attend or log in last week, please join us Wednesday, December 14th, for “Where Do We Go From Here?”, a text study and discussion on how Jews can make a difference in a changed America. Be at Emanu-El or tune in on Facebook Live at 7PM if you were happy with the election results OR 8PM if you were unhappy with the results.

The Big Inning at the End: With the conclusion of baseball’s Winter Meetings, player salaries continue to skyrocket. Should we still be bothered that many Major Leaguers make more than $20 million per season? Or, given the vast wealth of team owners, should we accept these numbers, and possibly tolerate even higher paydays? If the high salaries bother us, what should we be prepared to do to productively show our displeasure?

Shabbat Shalom!