Vayetze, the 7th sedra in Bereshit, covers a timespan of 20 years and many familiar themes in the development of the Jewish family: love, deception, disputes, jealousy and flight.
Jacob has received his father Isaac’s blessing by deceiving his brother Esau and he flees the family home in Beersheva, running away with no clear destination. He spends the night in a place not of his choosing – just where he finds he cannot go on – and rests his head on a stone. Jacob falls asleep and dreams of a ladder extending from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. In the dream, G-d pledges to give the land to him and his offspring, to bless and guard them all. Jacob awakes, deeply affected, now feeling a purpose and destiny. He vows that if G-d keeps His promise then the stone that he slept on would become a house of G-d. Indeed, commentaries suggest that the place where Jacob slept was Mount Moriah, the future home of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the ladder symbolised a bridge between heaven and earth.
I have long been drawn to this sedra for its themes intrinsic to our Jewish tradition – of connecting with the source of life, of receiving commands from heaven and carrying them out on earth, of angels as souls leaving and returning to bodies. The symbolism of Jacob’s ladders is especially relevant today, in our largely secular environment where gratification is often momentary and goals limited. The sedra reminds us that we have the opportunity at every moment to ascend or descend spiritually. G-d transforms the spiritual into the material and we can transform the material into something spiritual – as Jacob did.
Every moment is an opportunity to bless our fortune and elevate whatever we do – eating, drinking, pursuing acts of kindness, celebrating life and the passage of time.
Some people are sceptical of so-called spirituality, but when our rational conscious selves are surpressed and overcome – in times of danger and crisis, and in dreams – we may find angels, ladders leading to a higher purpose, and transcendence within ourselves.
By Judith Devons