Monday, December 05, 2016

Avoiding a Ladder that Stays on the Ground

By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Yaakov’s famous dream of a ladder set on the ground with its top reaching the Heavens (Bereisheet 28:12) separates between the stories of strife between Yaakov and Eisav and the impending arrival of Yaakov at the home of Lavan. While elements of the dream are related to the upcoming events, we will take a look at elements that relate it to Yaakov’s relationship with Eisav.

"‘I loved you,’ said Hashem, and you asked, ‘In what way did You love us?’ ... ‘Indeed Eisav is a brother of Yaakov ... and Eisav I despised’" (Malachi 1: 2-3). At first glance, the hatred toward Eisav is understandable, as he is a wicked, bloodthirsty person, through his very essence, as is even evidenced by the Torah’s stressing of his being red. On the other hand, though, if his nature from before birth is to be drawn to blood, shouldn’t the complaint for his behavior be placed on his Maker, not on Eisav?

It would seem that the most critical difference between the brothers is hinted at in Eisav’s name, which comes from the word asuy: done, complete. His characteristics were set and he made no attempt to overcome moral challenges. It is not only that his legs were on the ground, but even his head was on the ground. Yaakov was not content with what he was because he was not a man of trickery. The most important person he did not trick was himself.

The navi tells us: "Lift up your eyes to the Heavens and see" (Yeshaya 40:26). It is possible to see into the Heavens and, if one tries hard enough, to overcome natural limitations. Even one whose legs are on the ground can see to the top of the ladder. It is the realization that there is something higher to strive for that is the key to the ability to obtain it. When self-deception causes one to be satisfied with his present state, he has no interest in looking any higher, and then everything remains according to nature. There is no serious attempt to do more than that which come to him most easily.

When the navi says that Hashem despises Eisav, a basic part of that is that He hates the fact that he is asuy, that he does not see a value in being any more in the future than he is in the past and the present. He is not even willing to admit that there are Heavens to look to.

Yes, Eisav is red, signifying his tendency toward bloodthirstiness. Is that a weakness? It doesn’t have to be. David was also red and that was part of his recipe for success in forming the monarchal dynasty. But he is introduced as red with pretty eyes (Shmuel I 16:12). Yes, David killed, but with permission from Sanhedrin, and not on his own (Bereisheet Rabba 63:8). Shaul, who was missing that brash "redness," failed, and David succeeded with the right combination of traits. There is no trait that cannot be used for good, if the top of the ladder reaches to the Heavens.

This is why Yaakov dreamed upon leaving the Land. He was leaving his spiritual incubator under the tutelage of tzaddikim like his father, Shem, and Ever and was going to take on the arch-deceiver, Lavan. Hashem reassured him that He would be with Yaakov, and indeed he succeeded to keep his integrity.

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