In Parshat Vayetzei we read of Jacob’s arrival from his home in Beer Sheva to Charan where his Uncle Laban lives. It is there that he will marry Rachel and Leah; and they will give birth to the twelve tribes of Israel. In the second verse the Torah suddenly reveals to us his famous dream – the original “Stairway to Heaven:”
וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ם עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃
וְהִנֵּ֨ה יְוָה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְוָ֗ה אֱלֹי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵאלֹ-הֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃
וְהָיָ֤ה זַרְעֲךָ֙ כַּעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ֛ יָ֥מָּה וָקֵ֖דְמָה וְצָפֹ֣נָה וָנֶ֑גְבָּה וְנִבְרְכ֥וּ בְךָ֛ כׇּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָ֖ה וּבְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃
וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֙יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וַהֲשִׁ֣בֹתִ֔יךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֚י לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱזָבְךָ֔ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ׃
וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַעֲקֹב֮ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְ-הֹוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי׃
He had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of G-d were going up and down on it.
And the LORD was standing beside him, and He said, “I am the LORD, the G-d of your father Abraham and the G-d of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring.
Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.
Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is present in this place, and I did not know it!”
An interpretation of this dream is that life is like a ladder that we climb from rung to rung never losing sight that at the top of the ladder is G-d himself supporting us with his angels. It is with this in mind that we traverse the journeys of life.
While the content of this dream is fascinating and inspiring, it is significant that Jacob is dreaming at all. After fleeing from his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him, and arriving to his crafty Uncle Laban, who will ultimately try to swindle him, one would think that Jacob would be stuck in survival mode and therefore unable to dream.
The Torah teaches us that throughout our lives we can and should dream, and that we should aspire to accomplish great things in the world around us. Jacob was already 77 years old, yet his dreaming muscles were as strong as ever.
While we dream when we are asleep, it is critical to also dream with our eyes open. Jacob inspires us to remember that no matter how young or old we are, we can keep on dreaming and achieving throughout our lives.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
JFED Scholar in Residence