This portion is near and dear to my heart. Many years ago I entered this world on the 1st of Kislev, and this is my parsha. So, you might think this one would be easy for me to talk about. NOT! All week I have struggled to condense my many thoughts into a single subject to tackle, and yet, as of this very moment I am not sure of the direction it will go. This portion is so rich with material to choose from, so I will just begin to share some of my notes with you, and we’ll see where it leads.
The amazing dream of a sulam (ladder) which stands firmly on the ground and ascends to the heavens, implies to me that being anchored in the realities of this world, while striving to ascend to higher spiritual levels is not only our goal, but also the means. Spiritual ascent is the result of our involvement in and rectification of our physical world. It’s a balance. A very difficult balancing act!
“In his classic work ‘Netivot Shalom’, the Slonimer Rebbe explains that a Jew needs to be involved in both the physical and spiritual worlds….Jacob’s ladder represents the Torah’s path, which is broad enough to include both types of activities. The Slonimer Rebbe quotes the midrash relating that some time before the dream, Jacob envisioned the whole world in front of him like a wall. After spending his entire life secluded in the tents of Torah, the world seemed like an impossibly high wall for Jacob to scale. Through the dream, G-d showed him that heaven and earth are not exclusive of each other; rather, they are intrinsically connected. One can maintain a Torah lifestyle, full of values and holiness, wherever one ends up on the ladder of life. The most important thing is to stay on the ladder and maintain one’s attachment to holiness no matter how strongly the wind blows.” (Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman in Orchards of Delight, page 111)
Is it really possible to be in this world without being of this world? We women love to shop, decorate and create. There is nothing wrong with that. We can harness those talents to create a warm and welcoming environment for our family and friends. A place where G-d’s Presence is felt and worship of Him is encouraged. But too often we loose sight of why we are shopping, decorating and creating. If our efforts are not well balanced, we can easily become trapped in the materialism of the world around us. I know from personal experience that it is very easy to get so distracted by the means, that we can forget the goal, chasv’shalom. Our physical world is not evil as the Gnostics taught, it just needs to be refined and properly channeled for Kingdom purposes.
Ok, now I am going to shift gears.
“If G-d……..will guard me in this path….and He will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear and will return me in peace to the house of my Father, and the L-rd will be for me as a G-d, then this stone which I have made a monument will be a House of G-d, and from all that G-d gives me I shall tithe.” (Bereishis 28:20-22)
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin asks: “Is such an exchange an authentic expression of divine service, or is it an attempt at divine manipulation?” (Torah Lights, pg. 199). It hardly seems meritorious to tell G-d you will scratch His back if He will scratch yours! Rashi explains that “the L-rd will be for me as a G-d” is part of an ”if clause”, not a “then clause” in Jacob’s vow. He explains that these are not new demands, but something G-d has already declared:
“I am with you, and will watch over you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have fully kept this promise to you.” (Bereishis 28:15)
Rashi sees this as not a deal being made, but as a logical result of the situation at hand. In that light, it seems Jacob is simply telling G-d that he remembers all that was promised and he believes that G-d will fulfill every promise.
“Dear G-d, I do not ask You to make my life easy; I do ask you to make me strong.” (R’ Nachman – when he was only a child).
We are in a messy world, and we all have sorrow. There is no one I have ever met that hasn’t had sorrow. We get hurt by others words and actions, we have to bury those we love, we suffer illnesses and pain. The list goes on. Jacob too had problems. He was hurt by the lack of love and appreciate his father showed to him, he was forced to flee his home to escape his vengeful brother, he labored hard for many years under his uncle/father-in-law, who deceived him many times, he ended up with four wives when he only wanted one, he buried his beloved wife Rachel at a young age, his daughter was raped, his sons fought among themselves, he thought his son Joseph was killed by wild animals and didn’t see him for 22 years, and he spent the end of his life in exile, away from the land G-d had promised to him. Not exactly a worry-free life! Yet, despite all the problems Jacob had to endure throughout his life, he remained attached to G-d and His promises. So much so, that he was a source of blessing to others.
“But Laban said to him, ‘If you will indulge me, I have learned by divination that Hashem has blessed me on your account.’” (Bereisheet 30:27)
Let me remind us now of R’ Trugman’s words quoted earlier:
“The most important thing is to stay on the ladder and maintain one’s attachment to holiness no matter how strongly the wind blows”
So. now I will try to sum up and find a connection between all these various topics……….
The challenge is to keep our feet firmly on the ground and yet maintain our upward gaze. We are to be in this world, making a positive difference, without being of this world. By keeping our focus on G-d, and believing He will fulfill His promises, we will not let the cares and concerns of this world knock us off the ladder. And like the young Rebbe Nachman, we must pray for the strength to not only survive, but to thrive and bless others. How? In the way we maneuver this life’s difficulties. Again, I would like to remind us of R’ Trugman’s words quoted earlier:
“One can maintain a Torah lifestyle, full of values and holiness, wherever one ends up on the ladder of life”
Be blessed and be a blessing,