by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And [Yaakov] dreamed, and behold there was a ladder, secured to the ground,
with its head reaching to Heaven, and behold, the angels of the L-rd
ascending and descending upon it." [28:12]
There are any number of beautiful explanations of this verse found in the
Medrash and later writings. One such perush asks that we look at the ladder
as a parable, applicable to a human being. Though we are "rooted to the
ground," going about our daily lives and dealing with the physical world,
each of us has the opportunity nonetheless to have a "head reaching to Heaven."
This refers to a person who goes through life doing his or her actions for
the sake of Heaven. If we analyze our behavior, and work every moment to
increase our spirituality, learning, and good deeds - as well as those of
others - then we live out a Heavenly existence. Every minute of the day
offers us this opportunity to be "rooted to the ground" with "a head
reaching to Heaven."
Not only do we affect ourselves, but "the angels of the L-rd ascend and
descend upon it" - the whole world, physical and even spiritual, depends on
human beings! The Kabbalists say that each time a person does a Mitzvah,
s/he creates a "good angel" - and, Heaven forbid, the opposite is also true.
If we live spiritual lives, then we bring light to the entire world, and
even the angels are uplifted.
We see a demonstration of this later, when Moshe ascends Mt. Sinai to
receive the Torah. When the nation of Israel turns away from their leader,
and appoints a Golden Calf to replace Moshe - with some even worshipping it
as an idol - "G-d said to Moshe, 'Go, descend, for your nation has defiled
itself, that which you brought up from the land of Egypt." [Shemos 32:7]
When Israel defiles itself, it - and the world - no longer can have a leader
who is up in Heaven, speaking directly with G-d.
The Torah tells us again and again: each of us has the opportunity to affect
ourselves for the better, and simultaneously to have an impact on others as
well. And it always begins with the individual. "Tikkun Olam," perfection of
the world, can only come about by beginning with "Tikkun Atzmo," perfection
of one's self. Every generation hopes that it will be the one to finally
perfect the world; the Torah tells us where to start.
Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.