28 Nov 2014

Vayetse 5775 – Stairway to Heaven

The dream that Yaakob has at the opening of this week’s parasha presents him with a vision of the the world that deeply affects him. In his dream he sees a stairway set upon the ground, that reaches up to the heavens. He sees that there is traffic running in both directions with messengers of G-d ascending and descending the stairway. At the top, G-d is “standing upon it”. He speaks to Yaakob and promises to watch over him and protect him on his journey.

I am the G-d of Avraham your father and the G-d of Yitzhak…Here, I am with you wherever you go… (28:15)

 The vision of heaven and earth being connected, of regular traffic running between the two realms, and of G-d standing atop it all, promising to guard Yaakob’s journey, reveals to him that he is part of a much greater reality than he thinks. For the first time in the Torah a vision of Heaven is presented[1]. Yaakob discovers that his life is not confined to the earth with heaven looking on from above, but that he has connections with heaven and there is a rendezvous with G-d that awaits him. G-d promises to protect Yaakob on his journey of life that rises towards heaven, no matter where on earth it may take him.


Yaakob gathers that the life he is leading does not just extend before him in time, it ascends above him, presenting him at each step, with a higher expression of his being. With each step Yaakob climbs he is achieving a fuller identity and the daily ordeals that he is faced with are, therefore, not arbitrary or local challenges, but steps upon the path towards Sha’ar HaShamayim The Gates of Heaven. One midrash suggests that awaiting us at the top with our Creator are our fullest and best selves.

The journey towards reaching that self is not an easy one. There are challenges, distractions, confusions and setbacks. There are days that we “are not ourselves” or that we “feel like a different person”. There are days in which it seems every plan we’ve set to help us climb successfully is foiled. At such points, we might forget that we are on a journey at all, and instead, remain at a particular station along the way, forfeiting forward travel. G-d promises Yaakob that, as he commits to climbing the stairway of self creation, He will protect him from failure, and that he will not face the trials alone. As Yaakob commits to being his best, G-d commits to walking with him and commands His messengers to protect him.

We learn from Yaakob’s dream that our goal in life is to work on self-creation alongside the Creator Himself. Yaakob’s stairway to heaven is a path of struggle towards personal achievement. It is achievement that ascends above us rather than extends before us. It is measured in depth and quality of being rather than quantity and abundance of living. As Yaakob’s children, we are bequeathed the same promise and we climb the same stairway.

For He will command his messengers to protect you in all of your ways, G-d will protect your goings and comings now and forever. (Psalms, 91:11)

[1] Up to this point the only mention of Heaven – Shamayim is that G-d created it (Bereshit, 1:1). Although it is often mentioned, we know nothing more about it until now. Yaakob, therefore, recognises the place in which he dreamt as the “Gates of Heaven” – Shaar HaShamayim.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck