Monday, November 15, 2010

Vayetze: Of Dreams, Ladders and Vows

Parshat Vayetze begins with a dream of a ladder and Yaacov's first revelatory experience with God and continues with our forefather's oath/request for seemingly mundane issues - bread to eat and clothes to wear.

Traditional commentators describe the angels ascending the ladder as different nations, each one signifying a different exile of the Jewish people. One more contemporary explanation is brought by Elie Wiesel who writes that "in his dream, Yaacov saw a ladder whose top reached into heaven. It still exists. There are those who have seen it, somewhere in Poland, at the side of an out-of-the-way railroad station. And an entire people were climbing, climbing towards the clouds on fire. Such was the nature of the dread, our ancestor Yaacov must have felt” .

Yaacov's mundane oath meanwhile is turned by the Midrash into something more meaningful. Requests for bread, clothes and other physical things are turned into requests to be protected from lashon harah, gilui arayot, murder and idolatry.

However, ironically, it is those very things (lashon hara etc) that end up happening to Yaacov's family.

We ended with a comment from Yeshayahu Leibowitz who argues that those negative things that happen to Yaacov are due to him obtaining the blessings in a crooked way. Even though it was his destiny to receive them, Leibowitz writes, the way in which he acquired them has significant consequences.

How might this idea - that even if we deserve something it still matters how we achieve it - be relevant to us on a personal or national level?

Click here for the
source sheet and the audio recording.

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