Climbing the Spiritual Ladder

Jonathan Druckman – 5678

In Parshat Vayeitzei, Yaakov dreams about a ladder that stretches from earth to heaven, and which angels ascend and descend. Clearly, there is a lot of symbolism in this ladder. I would like to explore one possible meaning of the ladder, and how it applies to Yaakov in the parsha.

Yaakov faces challenges throughout the parsha. He works seven years for Lavan, Rivka’s brother, so that he can marry Lavan’s younger daughter, Rachel. However, Lavan deceives Yaakov by giving him his older daughter, Leah, instead.  Lavan then tells Yaakov he has to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel. Yaakov does not refuse. Instead, he rises to the challenge and works an additional seven years.

Additionally, Lavan deceives Yaakov in other ways. Yaakov tells Leah and Rachel that Lavan changed his wage “a hundred times” (Bereishit 31:7, see Rashi). Yaakov repeats this statement in a direct accusation of Lavan (Bereishit 31:41). Here he charges Lavan with unilaterally changing the terms of their agreement that Yaakov work for Lavan, each time to Lavan’s advantage. Yaakov, however, confronts this challenge too, and maintains his standards of honesty while working for Lavan for a total of twenty years. When Hashem commands Yaakov to return to Eretz Yisrael, he has attained great wealth; perhaps Hashem is rewarding Yaakov for his dedication and perseverance.

What is the source of Yaakov’s tenacity? In his book Strive For Truth, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes that a person must strive to serve Hashem lishmah, purely for its own sake.  Many people begin by serving Hashem shelo lishmah, for their own reasons or benefit.  Rabbi Dessler likens a person combating his or her yetzer hara and getting closer to serving Hashem lishmah to climbing a ladder.  He also says that not all people can climb the ladder easily.  Just as an athletic person can easily climb a ladder, the righteous, the spiritual athletes, can ascend the spiritual ladder without difficulty.  A child cannot climb a ladder as easily as an adult; children on the spiritual ladder are beginners, people on a lower spiritual level than spiritual adults.  And the invalid cannot even begin to climb the ladder without assistance; so too, reshaim are incapable of ascending the spiritual ladder by themselves, because they are trapped in the clutches of sin.  The only way for the reshaim to climb the ladder is by doing teshuva; in some cases, teshuva is so powerful that Hashem immediately elevates the person to the top of the ladder.  Except for unique cases of teshuva, when, as Rabbi Dessler says, one can “earn his world in one hour,” people must ascend the ladder slowly, one rung at a time.  If a non-religious person tries to become fully religious over too short a period of time, he or she may fall all the way down the ladder, and go right back to the original starting point.  Yaakov’s dream with the ladder signifies the importance of gradual spiritual ascent.

Yaakov climbed the ladder by working an extra seven years for Rachel and by never cheating Lavan.  Yaakov could have succumbed to his yetzer hara and confronted Lavan, but he always acted with dignity and morality.  In fact, Yaakov’s loyalty to Lavan is the basis for some business laws regarding an employer’s responsibility to his or her employer.

We can learn from Yaakov to always confront the challenges that we face.  If we always take the path of least resistance, we will never grow and mature.  We can only get closer to Hashem by striving for what is right and true, and we must take a measured approach, rather than trying to get to the highest level immediately.  Like Yaakov, we should conduct ourselves ethically, both ben adam lachavero and ben adam lamakom.

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