A common question: Is it worth investing effort to reach
great heights when there is always the risk of failing?
How many of us avoid trying too hard because our fear
Have you ever felt that
life’s disappointments have broken you to the point of no return? After falling
again and again, you simply don’t have the strength to try again – fearing
yet another fall. After continual failures, you finally throw up your hands
and say the effort to climb is not worth the pain.
Jacob’s famous dream,
in this week’s Torah portion, carries a powerful lesson of hope and confidence
– one that can overcome the fear of failure.
Jacob dreamed and saw
a ladder standing on the ground and its top reached up toward heaven. G-d’s
angels were ascending and descending on it (this week’s Torah portion, Genesis
The Midrash explains that
Jacob was shown the rise and fall of future empires that would rule the world.
He saw the ascent and descent of the Babylonians, the Medes and the Greeks.
But when it came to the Roman Empire (Edom) Jacob only saw their ascent, without
any defined time span of their rule. Jacob thus was frightened –perhaps their
power will not wane. At that moment G-d said “do not be afraid my servant
Jacob,” though the Roman Empire will rise, it will ultimately also fall.
Then G-d invited Jacob
to climb the ladder himself. But Jacob was afraid: “Just as the others ultimately
descended,” Jacob said, “I fear that I too will fall.” “Suddenly he saw G-d
standing over him,” saying, “do not be afraid my servant Jacob, I promise
you that if you climb you and your children will not fall.” But Jacob still
declined fearing that he was unworthy. Said G-d: “Had you trusted me and climbed
you would never have fallen. But since you did not, your children will be
ruled by the four empires. But do not be afraid, because at the end these
empires will fall and you will finally ascend.” (1)
Everything that happened
to the patriarchs [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] is an indication for their children,
(2) to teach us about the future. The patriarchs were shown what would happen
to their descendants. (3)
The same is true with
Throughout the journey
of each of our lives, especially as we embark on a new voyage, we will be
shown a ladder. As we are ready to undertake a new challenge, we are presented
with an opportunity to climb to higher places.
But at the same time we
also see how others have climbed and fallen on the ladder of history. Because
every ladder goes two ways: up and down.
Therein lies two critical
When we see our enemy
in power with no end in sight, know that his day will come.
But the most important
lesson is this: No matter how difficult it may be, we must never be afraid
to climb, even if it means the risk of falling.
However, this is easier
said than done. Why? Because we are “asleep” – as Jacob slept when he had
his dream; and when we are asleep we are unaware of G-d’s presence. Jacob
was disturbed when he fell asleep on the Temple Mount: “Surely G-d is in
this place and I knew it not.” In this state of spiritual sleep, we do
not have the confidence, the strength to overcome challenges. We – due to
our own limited sleep consciousness – become part of the problem instead of
But then we awake, and
“suddenly” we see G-d standing over us (“suddenly he saw G-d standing over
him”), and reminds us to not be afraid. “I am with you. I will protect
you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn aside
from you until I have fully kept this promise to you.”
But even when we are “asleep”
(or half asleep) we are often shown a vision – a dream of a ladder – upon
which the powers of history have been climbing and descending from the beginning
of time. And now we are invited to climb the ladder.
By showing us (the Jacob
within each of us) this vision we are being prepared – as the original Jacob
was prepared – for what is to come, and is giving all of us the tools to face
these challenges and prevail.
The message for each of
us today is clear:
To face the battles of
life you must first fortify your inner life. You must build a strong inner
core – a home and family that provides you with the security and confidence
to handle any force or enemy from without.
As we face enemies – known
or unknown, and especially the worst enemy of all, the enemy of fear and uncertainty
– we must build inner security, by waking up and connecting to the Divine.
That will give us the
power to climb and climb, and then... climb again.
(1) Midrash Tanchuma beginning
of this week’s portion. Vayikra Rabba 29:2. Shemos Rabba 32:7.
(2) Midrash Tanchuma Lech
Lecho 9. Bereishis Rabba 40:6.
(3) Ramban Lech Lecho 12:6.
Bechayei on this week’s portion 28:12.