There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.
— Bruce Lee
Hoshea 11:7-12:12 (Sephardim)
Hoshea prophesied during the era when Israel had split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom had fallen heavily into idolatry and had lost their way with God. This kingdom, led by monarchs who came from the tribe of Ephraim, was under threat by the Assyrian king and his military and ultimately was conquered and dispersed throughout the Assyrian empire. The warnings of the prophets of the time were that the people should awaken and return to the way of their forefathers and to their God.
The dream of a ladder reaching up to the heavens changed Yaakob’s life forever. In this vision he saw that Heaven and Earth were connected. God was at the top, divinity was accessible and the possibility of ascending the ladder to ‘sit with God’ suddenly became open to him.
Here a ladder was set up on the earth, its top reaching the heavens…God was standing upon it…He said: ‘I am God…here, I am with you’. (Gen., 28:12-13,15)
The climb is not an easy one, and it is not straight forward. There are plateaus along the way — even dips and drops after achieving great heights. The effort to refine one’s character, to constantly self-examine in an honest and effective way whilst implementing discovered wisdom into action in one’s life, is among our most difficult tasks.
Rabbi Moshe Hayim Luzzatto writes frankly and famously about the struggle of the climb in his Mesilat Yesharim.
There are setbacks upon setbacks; all strong and quite difficult. Barrier after barrier, locks and bolts; after which a person toils to remove many, many still remain.
Yaakob understood from that dream that his life goal was to develop himself, to grow ‘upward’ and actualise all that God had created within him.
After giving everything to his father in law’s house and business for 20 years, having grown there during that time marrying, working and raising a family, he finds that his own growth had stagnated. He now needed to step out on his own so he might continue to grow himself.
And [Jacob] said to [his father-in-law]: ‘Thus has God blessed you at my every step! But now, when may I too do something for my household?’ (Gen., 30:30)
In our haftara, as we read of the nation that came from Yaakob’s children, we find them to be paralyzed, busying themselves with empty endeavours.
My nation is tied up from returning to me. When they are summoned upward, they do not rise at all. (11:7)
Ephraim chases the wind and pursues the waves; he is forever adding illusion to futility. (12:2)
God watches from the ‘top of the ladder’ with compassion and yearning for them to break free of the paralysis and continue the upward climb toward greatness.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How surrender you Israel?…
All my tenderness is stirred….(11:8)
As children we innately strive like Yaakob did. We constantly look for information and seek to reveal truths that will help us live our lives. We resist bedtime for fear that we might miss something important! As we grow older though, we tend to reach a point, where we have what we believe to be a sufficient understanding of the world. With rationalisations we allow ourselves to learn and examine ourselves less, and become complacent. It is in this complacency that the words of Hoshea ring strongly, reminding us of our heritage and never to settle:
In the womb [Yaakob] tried to supplant his brother; Grown to manhood, he strove with a divine being, he strove with an angel and prevailed.
There is great strength in each of us, which need only be actualised with God’s support:
The Lord will roar like a lion, and they shall march behind him. When he roars his children shall come fluttering…(11:10)
In every circumstance of our lives, even as we may achieve, we need to ask ourselves ‘Am I still growing’? ‘Am I still learning’? or have I come to a situation where I am coasting and ‘chasing the wind’?
Yaakob’s dream taught him that in life we are meant to forever aspire ‘upward’ and enhance the divine in our selves. We do this when we aim to develop our understanding of our world, and incorporate those lessons into how we live and act. In all situations we should seek to grow and become better, kinder and wiser people, activating our highest potentials and making ourselves ever more available for the presence and grace of God in our lives.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck
27d Ya’akov (28:11-32:2)
Ya’akov’s dream (28:11-22); Meets Rachel (29:1-12);
Meets Lavan and marries daughters (29:13-30);
Leah: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda (29:31-35);
Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan, Naphtali (30:1-8);
Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad, Asher (30:9-13);
Leah buys Ya’akov and has Issachar, Zevulun and Dinah, while Rachel has Yosef (30:14-24);
Ya’akov’s wages: game of goats and sheep (30:25-43);
The flight of Ya’akov and his family (31:1-21);
Lavan catches up and they argue (31:22-35);
They sort their differences and depart (31:36-32:2).
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS