Dreams are intriguing. The Torah depicts a few dreams and they usually fall into two categories. One type is a directive, such as the dream of King Avimelech, where G-d tells him not to go near our matriarch Rivka. So too, the dream of Lavan, where G-d tells him not to harm his son-in-law, Yaacov.
In the other type of dream there is a message which requires interpretation. Such as Pharoh’s dreams, and the dreams of the incarcerated baker and winemaker of Pharoh, which Yosef correctly interpreted.
This week’s Parsha opens with our forefather Yaacov dreaming of a ladder whose base was on the ground and its top reached the heavens with angels of G-d going up and down.
This dream is an anomaly, because the Torah does not interpret the actual dream. Our Sages fill us in with the details. The ladder was made of fire. The width of the ladder was massive – 8000 parsos – a third of the world. There were four angels, two heading up the ladder and two angels descending.
The two sets of angels signify that Yaacov was constantly protected by two angels. However, angels have their jurisdiction and angels dispatched for a mission in Israel are regulated only to Israel. Now that Yaacov was leaving Israel to find a wife there was a change of guard and the angels of Israel were ascending back to Heaven.
But why did the angels need a ladder to head back up? Don’t angels have their own wings? Our Sages share with us something fascinating. The Torah relates that our forefather Avraham was visited by three angels with each angel having a specific mission. Two of the angels, Michael and Gavriel, went on to destroy the cities of Sedom and Amorah. However, once their mission was completed they remained on the earth. Why didn’t they go back up to heaven? Our Sages explain that when the angels came to Sedom and met with Avraham’s nephew Lot, they told him they were going to destroy the cities. They failed to mention that they were messengers of G-d to do His will. Because of this infraction, they were not permitted to return back to heaven.
It wasn’t until 138 years later, during Yaacov’s dream, that the angels were able to use the ladder in the dream to ascend back to the heavens.
Our sages tell us that there were four rungs on the ladder, with each rung representing one of the four phases in the Jewish people’s traverse and challenges through the exiles.
The question still begs, why doesn’t the Torah interpret this dream as it does in other instances?
The Medrash relates that our Sages explain that Yaacov’s dream described what occurred at the monumental event when G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. Now, since Yaacov’s dream was essentially a portrayal of the giving of the Torah it did not require an interpretation – because it would play itself out some 260 years later.
The question is how does the dream depict the giving of the Torah? The Medrash explains. ‘The ladder stood on the ground’ – this corresponds to the entire Jewish nation being at the foot of Mount Sinai. ‘The top of the ladder touched the heavens’ – relates to what the Torah tells us that Mount Sinai was ablaze up until the center of the heavens. ‘The angels ascending and descending the ladder’ – refers to Moshe and Aaron who were like angels. The Torah says Aaron ascended to a certain level of the mountain and Moshe ascended and descended the expanse of the mountain.
Yaacov’s dream also speaks to us directly. The very wide expanse of the ladder tells us that the ladder of spirituality is readily available to us all and is always within reach. The image of the ladder helped Yaacov navigate through the most difficult and hostile situations, such as the 20 years he spent with his deceitful father-in-law Lavan. Yaacov had his feet on the ground but he kept his head above. This prevented him from being influenced by the bad environment he was in.
Finally, a ladder is used to go up and down. Of course, we all want to be on the ascent. However, we know that is not always the case; we have our descents as well. The image of the ladder teaches that even when we experience a descent, the ladder is always firmly in place and available for us to ascend!
King David tells us “Seven times a righteous person falls and he gets up.” One of the commentaries points out that David calls the one who falls – a righteous person – even before he gets up. David’s encouraging message to us is that every person has some righteousness within him, and focusing on our good qualities gives us the necessary boost and confidence to pick ourselves up and climb!