In this weeks parsha, Vayetzey, Yaakov arrives at the place where the
Beis HaMikdash (the Temple) will be built. There he has a prophetic
"And behold, there was a ladder standing on the ground with its
head reaching the heavens. And behold, there were angels of Elokim
ascending and descending. And behold, Hashem was standing above
Who were these angels and what did they represent?
Rashi explains that the angels of the Land of Israel who had
accompanied Yaakov until the border were now ascending. The
accompanying angels of chutz la'aretz (the land outside of Israel)
were descending to now escort Yaakov.
The Even Ezra explains that this vision symbolized that nothing that
transpires in this world is hidden from Hashem. It's as if there is a
ladder connecting heaven and earth. Angels ascend to report the doings
of this world and descend to carry out the will of Hashem above.
The Nefesh HaChaim offers a fascinating explanation. He explains that
our purely physical appearance is, in fact, incredibly misleading. The
Medrash in Breishis explains that there was a perfect balance and
symmetry between heaven and earth during creation. This was endangered
at the point of man's creation. If he would be created from either the
upper realm or from the lower realm this balance would have been
upset. Hashem therefore created man from both the upper and lower
realm - physically formed from the earth with a spiritual neshama
(soul) blown into him.
At first glance, this should have upset the balance even more than if
he'd been created solely from the lower realm. Now, man exists in the
lower realm, holding the heavenly neshama captive!
He explains that man actually extends from the lowest realm all the
way up to the highest realms. It's as if there is a beacon of light
emanating from the physical body, the lowest part of man, which
stretches all the way to the highest spiritual realms. The physical
body that is visible to us is called the na'al, the shoe. Just as the
shoe houses the lowest part of the physical body, so too the physical
body houses the lowest part of the neshama. However, the neshama of
man actually extends to the heavens. Therefore, with the creation of
man there remained a perfect symmetry in the world. Man, by existing
in both realms, actually bridges the gap between heaven and earth.
This, he explains, was the vision that Yaakov saw in his dream. The
ladder was nothing but a clear vision of the very essence of man. We
stand with our legs resting on the earth and our 'heads' extending
toward the heavens, reaching Hashem himself.
The ascent and descent of the angels on this 'ladder of man' alludes
to the concept that man powers the spiritual realm. Only if we
properly serve our Creator can the angels 'ascend' - allowing the
smooth functioning of the spiritual realm. When the spiritual realm is
in its proper state, then the hashpa'ah (influence) which filters down
to us, powers this world to function properly. Its state of
malfunction hinders the hashpa'ah's flow down to this physical world.
One needs only to look around today to discern this phenomenon.
In the third blessing of the Shmone Esrei prayer (the Amidah) we say:
"Atah kadosh, v'shimcha kadosh, u'k'doshim b'chol yom y'hal'lucha
selah". You are Holy and Your Name is Holy and the holy ones bless you
daily. He explains that only once we proclaim His Holiness (atah
kadosh - You are Holy) can the angels (the holy ones) then make their
proclamation. The proper functioning of the spiritual realm (and the
subsequent influence on the physical world) was given over to our
Yaakov then continues on his way to the house of his uncle, Lavan.
There he marries Leah and Rachel and the tribes of Israel are born.
All knew that there were going to be a total of twelve tribes. The
names given reflect the desire that the Matriarches had to mother
these tribes. After ten tribes had already been born, Rachel gives
birth to her first.
"Va'tomar asaf Elokim es cherpasi. Vatikra es shmo
Yosef (30:23)" - And she said that Hashem has gathered in my disgrace
and she called his name Yosef.
Rashi offers a seemingly strange explanation as to why this name Yosef
was chosen. Until a child was born, there was no one to blame when
something would break or when the last cookie would be eaten. This
child would 'asaf es cherpasa' - gather in her disgrace - give her an
alibi. She named him Yosef. Seemingly petty.
Appreciation and thanks are often hard to feel and to express. The
debt of gratitude causes us to feel burdened and uncomfortable. We
often tend to minimize what others have done for us. How much have I
really gained, anyway?
An act of kindness is ordinarily multifaceted. The major benefit is
often accompanied by myriad smaller aspects that are also beneficial.
We'll often show our appreciation for the major aspect, thereby
ignoring the lesser, more petty, ones.
Rachel was overjoyed that she had mothered a tribe of Israel. She
would now play a major role in the odyssey of the human race's quest
toward spirituality. She had become a mother of Israel. She was
ecstatic. At the same time, she didn't overlook the multitude of
smaller benefits gained by having mothered a child. All the way down
to the petty benefit of having an alibi when something would break.
She felt appreciation on all of the levels. She wanted a constant
reminder to always appreciate all of the aspects. She named him Yosef.
After twenty years of working for Lavan and dealing with all of his
treachery, Hashem commands Yaakov to return home.
"Shuve el eretz
avosecha ul'molad'techa v'eh'yeh im'cha (31:3)" - Return to the land
of your fathers, to your birthplace and I'll be with you.
Yaakov summons Rachel and Leah out to the field where he can speak to
them confidentially. "You know how honestly I've served your father
and how deceitfully he's treated us. Hashem has spoken to me and has
said to return home."
Rachel and Leah give a somewhat puzzling response. Have we any portion
in our father's house? He sold us to you to pay for your work and then
withheld the wages of your additional years of work. Whatever Hashem
has told you we should do.
Why was the first half of this answer necessary? Regardless of how
they had been treated, if Hashem said to go, you go!
I once heard the following explanation from Rav Yaakov Weinberg,
shlit"a. A command from Hashem can only be the best possible course of
action for a person to take. There are times when we recognize the
clear benefits of listening and there are times when complying would
appear to cause detrimental results. We must use the times when we see
the benefits to build faith and trust and thereby strengthen ourselves
for the times that we don't.
Rachel and Leah certainly would have followed the command of Hashem
and would have left even the best circumstances behind. However, being
that this was a case where the benefits were evident, they utilized
this opportunity to ingrain in themselves the idea that every command
of Hashem is purely beneficial.