Vayetze is a fascinating portion. It returns to classic Genesis themes including family deception (Jacob, Laban, Leah and Rachel), infertility, a renewal of the covenental promise and another meeting at a well. Yet, by far the most famous passage in this portion is the dream of Jacob and the ladder.(29:10-22). Fleeing his own family crises, and encouraged by his mother Rebecca, Jacob sets out to Haran and, coming to a “certain place” falls asleep and dreams a dream that has a sulam (ladder or stairway) reaching to the sky with “angels of God going up and down” and God standing beside Jacob renewing the promise. Jacob awakes, says the famous line “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it” (16).
So much to relate for us and our generation. The “certain place” is intriguing. Perhaps the text is telling us that we can find God anywhere? No place is named, just a “certain” place. Maybe it is also telling us that no matter where we are in life, if we open to find God or accept the spiritual, we can find it. But the sulam. The ladder is an inteersting concept. How many of us sought to climb the ladder of achievement, of corporate status and advancement? Bit by bit, rung by rung, we sought success and happiness. And now? Look at the text as well for , while angels go up and down, and God is at Jacob’s side, no one is holding the ladder. Jacob awakes, feels the Divine presence and changes?
What can we make of this? Let me suggest a way of looking at this that emerged from a discussion this week in a class. The discussion was focusing in how people change. The thought came to me that we, in our age, are seeing so many changes. Changes in work our body, or family and our relationships. Indeed, as we get older, it is those relationships that help define us, give our lives texture and meaning. Slowly, we become aware that we are alone, but that for our own life, we need people. If that ladder symbolizes our own search for meaning, our own reaching for a sense of purpose and connection to something beyond our own self, then we can ask, who now, in our lives, are our angels who holds on to that ladder so that we do not fall. Each of us, we hope, has those angels, those people who hold us up, who support us and who are there for us. They are angels and, often, we do not know that they are present.
This dream of Jacob can serve as a reminder to seek out and honor these angels who hold us and allow us to reach for dreams that we still dare to dream.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.