Our Torah reading this week focuses upon the patriarch, Jacob, and upon some of the great struggles that he confronted in his life. We find Jacob alone in the wilderness after he had fled from his home, fearing that his brother, Esau, would try to kill him. We recall that Jacob had disguised himself as Esau, and tricked their aged father, Isaac, into giving him the coveted parental blessing.
According to the Torah, Jacob is in the wilderness as night falls, and he has that famous dream where a ladder descends from heaven with god at the top. And on the ladder there are angels who come down to touch Jacob, and then they ascend again to heaven. God speaks to Jacob in that dream, assuring Jacob of His protection on his journey, and promising Jacob that he will return as the spiritual heir to his father.
And what was the meaning of that dream? For me, and for many of our commentators, the dream serves to express to Jacob: “There you are on this night Jacob. There you are; frightened and alone and so unworthy. But so high might you yet rise.” Yes, a dream that spoke to Jacob about the great discrepancy between the man that he was, and the man that he could yet become.
For me, this biblical scene has always spoken a compelling message. I see it as a metaphor for the human struggle that we all know: the struggle to bridge the gap between what we are, and what we have the potential to become; or the all-too-common discrepancy between our intentions and our actions.
I think that we can all find something of Jacob in ourselves. He knew hardship, he knew struggle, he knew regret. But he also had before him a vision of the “ladder of life” that is always before each of us. Yes, real living so often means continuing the “climb” from where we are to where we could yet be.
May we be granted the strength and the courage to persist in the often trying, but so worthy climb that is life.
Rabbi David Greenberg