This week's parsha
The dream of the ladder in our Parshah is something that has captivated people’s imaginations for thousands of years. Jacob, the ancestor of the Jewish people, was on a journey going far away from home. The sun set, and he lay down and slept, dreaming of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven.
The basic perspective of Judaism is that “earth,” meaning practical, physical life in all its detail, and “heaven,” spirituality and holiness, are closely connected.
In every area of activity, we have the opportunity to express this connection. The physical details of Jewish law provide guidance how to achieve this.
For example, the Zohar tells us that the ladder in Jacob’s dream represents prayer. Like the ladder, prayer reaches from earth to heaven. It is the means for every individual person to connect with G‑d.
The prayer service has different sections. In the morning service there is the preliminary part of the prayers, then the Shema, then the Amidah. These are different stages, similar to the rungs of a ladder. During the service the person is climbing higher and higher, reaching ever closer to G‑d. The highest stage is the Amidah prayer, in which you stand in the immediate presence of G‑d, as in the throne room, and you speak directly to Him.
Following this interpretation, the angels going up the ladder in Jacob’s dream represent the words of prayer. The words coming from our mouths and our hearts rise up to G‑d. They carry with them a little bit of the radiance of our soul: our feelings of love and dedication.
The angels coming down the ladder are the messengers from G‑d carrying divine blessing to the person who is praying, to his or her family, to the community, to the Jewish people and to the entire world.
After having the dream of the ladder, Jacob made a declaration establishing the bond between another version of these two worlds. One world is that of his own personal material success. The other is holiness. How can these two be joined?
Jacob said to G‑d, “. . . of whatever You give me, I will give a tenth to You” (Genesis 28:22). By giving a proportion of his income to charity, Jacob was ensuring that all his wealth was tinged with holiness -- because every hundred pieces of silver he earned meant that an extra ten pieces of silver would be used for a sacred purpose. Thus, two worlds are joined, the material and the holy, like earth and heaven.
Through the ages, Jews have tried to follow Jacob’s example, giving a tenth of their income to charity. This practice has been a vital factor in the preservation of the Jewish ideal, learnt from Jacob’s dream: to seek in every aspect of life, whether in prayer or at work in the office, to join earth and heaven.