Genesis 28 begins this weeks portion, Vayetzei. It is a portion that is again, filled with personal struggles, spiritual challenges and the on-going drama of family dynamics; as two sisters, Leah and Rachel, become triangulated in their relationship with Jacob. It is Jacob who carries the story, however, as we meet him fleeing from his own family of origin after the incident with his father and his twin, Esau and the birthright. Heading to the “old country”, he beds down for the night and sleeps and in that sleep dreams a dream. This is the famous story of Jacob’s ladder. He dreams and in that dream: “a ladder/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)
For centuries, commentators have looked at this image of the “sulam” , this stairway or ladder and asked what it meant. The angels going up and down and the dream that has God standing and speaking with Jacob promising him land and descendants. One of my Torah study students looked at this passage and remarked that to her, it meant that this “sulam” was a symbol of life itself. There are “ups and downs” in life, but we go on. Perhaps that is resilience?
The Etz Hayim, the Torah commentary of the Conservative movement offers this explanation, one that I think also makes sense to our generation as we seek to find a sense of meaning with the time we have been given. “We ascend toward God one step at a time, making one small change in our lives and stabilizing it before we take another step. Sometimes we miss a step, falling back, but we recover and keep climbing. Most people do not leap toward God in one great burst of enthusiasm.” (Etz Hayim. p. 166). For us, a generation that is in the midst of re-defining our relationship to God and the spiritual aspect of life, I think this comment is quit true. As we search, we explore our own sense of self and our own re-defined spirituality; one step at a time. It often leads us to places we did not expect. The journey is often forward and backward, as life deals us cards we did not anticipate. Yet, we continue the search.
So that “sulam”, that stairway may really be each of us, slowly but steadily trying to ascend to a spiritual height that provieds a foundation of faith.
Ever so slowly, one step at a time!
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.