THE LADDER AND THE ANGELS
Rabbenu Yaakov "Ba'al Haturim" zs"l notes that "sulam" (ladder) has the
same numerical value as "mamon" (money) and as "oni" (poverty). He thus
explains the ladder in Yaakov's dream symbolically: "A ladder standing on
the ground" - referring to the depths of destitution, "with its top reaching
the heavens" - alluding to the heights of prosperity. Clearly, he does not
mean that financial success can be referred to as "the heavens." Evidently,
he means that there are two sides to the coin. A person can use his money
for the needs of "the land," exclusively for physical pursuits, spending
more and more of his resources on luxuries and the pleasures of life.
Alternatively, he can utilize his assets - or at least a sizable portion of
them - for the needs of "the heavens," by not sacrificing his children's
education to save money, by participating in charity campaigns, supporting
the needs of the Batei Kenesset, yeshivot and Torah study groups.
Obviously, one should not spend all his money on these causes, but he must
ensure that his ladder is "standing on the ground with its top reaching the
heavens." He must also realize that "the angels of God ascend and descend
the ladder." Each penny one spends for the sake of a misvah, be it charity,
kindness, education or Torah, yield angels who plead his case favorably in
the Heavenly Court. They ascend the heavens to bring merit to him and his
family, and they then descend in order to protect and defend. The power of
charity, kindness and the support of Torah study is such that the individual
reaps the fruits in this world, while the principal remains for him and his
family in the World to Come.
FROM THE WONDERS OF CREATION
The functioning of the eye is among the most wondrous features of the human
body. Anyone who has ever used a camera knows that the focus must be
adjusted before the lens can absorb the rays of light. Amazingly, the eye
adjusts its focus by itself and, in the course of a moment, it can change
its focus for every object, near and far. Since the Almighty, in His
infinite mercy, provided us with two eyes, we have three-dimensional vision.
Meaning, a person can determine distance without the assistance of his sense
of touch. Each eye revolves around its axis, if you will, through six
muscles: up, down, right, left, upper diagonal and lower diagonal. For
example, when a person wants to look upward, the upper muscle must tighten,
and to that same degree the other muscles have to loosen in order to
properly facilitate the movement of the eye. If the one muscle tightens too
much or if one of the others fails to loosen enough, the movement of the eye
becomes a squint. Equally as fascinating is the way the two eyes work
together. Remember that the eye is capable of discerning between different
colors, not just black and white. In order to determine color, the eye is
equipped with about 130-million small dots on the retina. If even just a
few of them are damaged, seeing colors becomes an impossibility. It is also
noteworthy that the Creator provided the eye, which is particularly
sensitive to foreign objects and dirt, and thus requires regular cleaning, a
constant washing system through the eyelid, which descends over the eye to
As Jews, we understand that the Almighty blessed us not only with physical
eyes but also with spiritual ones, with which the Jew comprehends lofty
concepts and can thus distinguish between good and evil. Indeed, in Hebrew,
the term "ro'eh" refers both to actual vision as well as comprehension.
When a person understands a certain idea properly, it becomes clear and
present as if he sees it with his eyes. In this sense we more fully
appreciate the pasuk, "Do not place a stumbling block before a blind
person," which refers not only to those who cannot see, but also to those
who are spiritually blind, that one may not lead them to commit aveirot.
One who does not understand that which he sees can see only with his
physical eyes, not with the eyes of his spirit. For his spiritual eyes are
different from his actual eyes, as in order to see accurately through his
spiritual eyes one needs the appropriate "glasses." These glasses are the
education which he receives from his parents and teachers. A person is not
born with this unique sense of vision. He must receive the proper training
in order to find the Divine Providence in every facet of life. But what
exactly are these spiritual "glasses" which we wear? Obviously, they are
the Torah and its missvot, as the pasuk states, "The missvah of Hashem is
clear, illuminating the eyes."
Measure for Measure (17)
Flashback: A wealthy man once, in his insensitivity, failed to feed a poor
scholar who ultimately died of hunger. The scholar was denied entry in to
Gan Eden, since the wealthy man was destined to be punished on his account.
The poor scholar's soul was granted permission to appear to the wealthy man
in order to direct him along the path of repentance, thereby avoiding
punishment, which would then allow the poor scholar to enter Gan Eden. He
instructed the wealthy man to dress up as an impoverished peasant and go
study day and night in the Bet Midrash, without taking any food from anyone.
Only when he was famished would he be allowed to go to his own home and ask
for food. When he eventually went to his home and knocked, the maid slammed
the door on him in a fury.
He knocked once again, and the door suddenly swung open. Now the other
workers in the house joined the maid by the doorway. "It's him again,"
exclaimed the maid. The other servants jeered at the poor peasant at the
door, and they angrily approached him and pushed him away. Already weak and
faint from his intense hunger, the man fell like timber. "Get up!" they
shouted, thinking that he was planning on sleeping there. They attacked him
with a series of kicks and dragged him outside until the gate. He was left
there writhing in pain, depressed and motionless, like a lifeless heap of bones.
He lied there, covered in dirt, and wished he were no longer alive. He
sensed more strongly than ever the adage, "Against your will you are alive,"
as all his limbs reminded him ever so painfully of their existence and his
head pounded from hunger. With the pithy remnants of his strength he sat up
on his knees, took a stone and tossed it towards the window. The glass
shattered with a loud crash, and the door immediately swung open. This
time, the servants were accompanied by the family members, his dear, beloved
children. Infuriated, they shouted curses at him, they kicked him and
punched him, forcefully and scornfully. His darling, gentle children joined
the action, showing the poor, annoying peasant a lesson by hitting him hard,
again and again.
Once their wrath had been completely unloaded on to his aching body, they
admonished him harshly, warning him never to show up again. They left him
there, rolling in his blood. By now, his anger had been kindled, as well.
Just as the door closed behind them, he supported himself on the fence, took
hold of several stones and hurled them furiously, shattering one window
after another, the sound of breaking glass now blending with cries and wails
from inside. The door opened once again, and this time the woman of the
house came out by herself. The man looked at her and decided to change his
course of action. He hoped within the depths of his heart - his wife, his
life partner, would she recognize him, would she break out in cries of joy
She stopped at a safe distance from the stranger and gazed at him in
disgust. "I see that we cannot get rid of you," she said angrily and
"For what did I ask? All I want is something to eat," he answered. Would
she recognize his voice? Would she be able to identify the stranger
speaking to her? No. She pointed with her jewelry-laden hands and said,
"There is some bread, over there. Go and eat."
Indeed, in the direction where she pointed, there were some pieces of stale
bread which was put there for the chickens. His hands trembling, he took a
handful of fodder and restored his strength.
to be continued...
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"
These angels were the angels of heaven. It seems strange, then, that they
would first ascend and then descend. They should first come down from the
heavens and only thereafter go back up! Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l
explains that the Creator runs the world in accordance with our actions. If
we increase our missvot and good deeds, then the bounty of goodness in the
world increases. But if, Heaven forbid, we increase our sinful acts, then
calamity surfaces, God forbid. Therefore, the angels first ascend to give
an account of our deeds. Only thereafter do they come down to carry out
their divine mission, be it for good or, God forbid, for bad.
"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"
The Midrash suggests that "bo" (it) here actually refers to Yaakov himself,
rather than the ladder. The Alshich zs"l explains that upon Yaakov's
departure from Israel to Canaan, the Almighty wanted to give encouragement,
to tell him of his distinguished stature and thus he has nothing to fear.
He showed Yaakov how the entire natural order subjects itself to the ssadik.
As Hazal teach us, Mt. Moriah was uprooted from its place to greet Yaakov,
the sun set early for him, angels came down from the heavens to escort him
and even the Almighty Himself stood over him, as it were, to protect him.
Therefore, he had nothing in the world to fear, for the entire world - the
land, the heavens, the heavenly bodies, and even Hashem Himself - were
helping him. Indeed, "the entire world was created only to accompany the
"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"
Rabbenu Yaakov Hayyim Sofer zs"l, author of "Kaf Hahayim," explains this
verse based on Hazal's comment that there exists a heavenly angel
corresponding to every nation down on Earth. When this angel is raised and
exalted in the heavens, then the nation enjoys success and prosperity. The
Jewish people, however, do not have such an angel in the heavens, as Hashem
Himself is their king. Therefore, Yaakov dreamt that "Hashem is standing
over him," that Yaakov belongs to Almighty Himself, not to any other,
secondary force. But if this is true, then how do other nations have the
capacity, at times, to rule over Am Yisrael? The answer is, "angels of God
were ascending and descending." The ascent and descent of these angels is
determined by the actions of Am Yisrael. The nation itself causes, with its
lack of proper observance, the other nations to be given strength to
overpower us, and when we repent that strength is taken away from them.
"And behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it [the ladder]"
Rabbenu Bahyei zs"l cites the interpretation of Rabbi Yehudah Ibn Tibbon
zs"l that the ladder symbolizes human achievement, whereas the angels
represent human thoughts. Through Yaakov's dream, the Torah teaches us that
one's accomplishments are not like a single road, extending for miles on
end. A person should never attempt to cross every ocean and climb the
tallest mountain. His primary focus must involve spiritual growth, rising
to the greatest heights he can, while descending to the depths of his soul
and inner being, working on his character and purifying himself for proper
service of his Creator.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rabbi Mordechai Abadi zs"l
Rabbi Mordechai Abadi zs"l, one of the great leaders of Aram Soba around a
century-and-a-half ago, was a remarkable prodigy. He mastered the entire
gamut of Torah knowledge, including both the "revealed" and hidden areas of
Torah scholarship. He composed many works covering a wide range of topics,
including halachah, agadah and Kabbalah.
His community showed tremendous honor to their distinguished leader, and
they would invite him to sit at the head-table at every "se'udat missvah."
Once, he was invited to participate in a Torah study program in memory of
one of the late members of the community, and the session was followed by a
festive meal. The great rabbi partook of all the delicacies on the table,
except for the jalap ("sahlav"), a certain dairy dish which had been prepared.
The man who prepared the meal innocently asked the rabbi, "Why is the rabbi
not partaking from this dish?"
The rabbi asked, "Oh, was jalap served at the table? I didn't see it." He
thought for a moment and then continued, "I think the reason is because the
milk used for the jalap was not "halav Yisrael," no Jew was present at the
time when the milk was produced. Is this true?"
"Yes, this is true," confessed the man, somewhat taken aback. He quickly
regained his composure and remarked, "But I really don't see what the
problem is. After all, everybody knows that the only milk available here is
The rabbi gazed at him sternly and admonished him. "Are you questioning
the rabbinic decree prohibiting milk produced by gentiles? Call the one in
charge of the milking. I have a question for him."
The Arab responsible for milking the goats was brought into the room. The
rabbi turned to him and asked, "People say that this milk is the most
delicious milk produced. What is the secret? What makes it so tasty?"
The Arab worker's face shone with pride. "I added some donkey's milk in
order to enhance the taste. If the rabbi wants, I can provide him with
some, as well."
Everyone in attendance was shocked, and the one who prepared the meal sat
speechless, his face red with shame.
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on
the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash "Yehaveh Da'at"
Chapter 2: The Laws of Getting Dressed
Continued From Last Week
When putting on shoes, one should first put on the right shoe without tying
it, and then proceed to put on the left shoe, tie it, and then go back and
tie the right shoe. The reason given is the fact that from the Torah it is
clear that special importance is afforded to the right side. For example,
in several instances sprinkling is done on the right thumb and big-toe
(Shemot 29:20, Vayikra 8:23, and elsewhere). However, since we find special
significance afforded to the left with regard to tying, i.e., tefillin is
tied on the right arm, the left shoe is tied first.
If one chances upon his left shoe first, he should wait until he finds his
This halachah applies to all shoes, regardless of the material from which
they are made.
One who wears shoes without laces should simply put on the right shoe
first. If his shoes have straps instead of laces, he ties the left straps
first, as he would with laces. But if they just have one simple piece with
which to close the shoe, such as with a zipper and the like, he does need to
close the left shoe first.
Even a left-handed person, who wears tefillin on his right arm, ties his
left shoe first, like right-handed people. If, however, his left leg is
stronger, and certainly if he is both left-handed and left-legged, he should
first tie his left shoe.
This same procedure should be followed by women and children.
When taking off shoes, one should first remove his left shoe, thus showing
respect to his right side. He should first untie his right laces, and only
thereafter untie his left shoelaces.
Similarly, when washing one's hands, he should wash his right side before
his left side. When washing his entire body, he should first wash his head,
as it is the "king" of all limbs, so-to-speak. Likewise, one should put on
his "kippah" before any of his other clothing.
It is forbidden to walk in too upright a manner, meaning, one should not
walk in an arrogant, condescending way. Nevertheless, one should not lower
his head too much as he walks, but should rather conduct himself somewhere
in the middle so that he can see those opposite him. One should be careful
in this regard even when walking less than four cubits.
Regarding this issue there is no distinction between a Torah scholar and a
layman. Furthermore, it makes no difference with regard to this halachah
whether the individual is in the Bet Kenesset, Bet Midrash, or anywhere
else. However, one should conduct himself with an added degree of reverence
when in a Bet Kenesset or Bet Midrash, as the verse states (Tehillim 58:15),
"In the House of God we will walk with emotion."
It is an added degree of piety for a Jewish male to wear a hat or kippah
which covers the entirety or majority of his head. However, strictly
speaking, it suffices so long as the covering can be seen from all sides of
the head - front, back and both sides - even if it does not cover a majority
of the head.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LOTTERY AND PROPHECY
Who would not want to go to sleep at night and wake up the next morning as
a brilliant scholar, with the entire Torah fluent on his lips and packed
away in his mind, with no effort whatsoever, rendering him a "Pillar of
Torah," in every sense of the word? Or, perhaps, who would not want to
simply recite the shema before he goes to sleep and then wake up several
hours later as a proficient Kabbalist, a never-ending fountain of lofty and
exalted intentions, familiar with all the hidden secrets of the upper
worlds? We know, of course, that this is impossible, but if only we could
just buy a spiritual lottery ticket, as it were, and win the jackpot!
In truth, who said this is impossible? There was, in fact, one personality
in our history who won the lottery in this sense - Yaakov. On his journey
to Haran, he chanced upon Mt. Moriah, he recited the arvit prayer, and dark
set in. He needed to sleep right there, as the day ended early (as Hazal
teach us). Without any preparation whatsoever, he dreamt the famous vision
of the ladder, he saw camps of heavenly angels, he even saw "And behold,
Hashem was standing over him." He also was privileged to receive Hashem's
personal promise of eternal divine supervision and assistance: "Behold, I
will be with you, I will protect you wherever you go...for I will never
leave you." He was promised the eternal inheritance of the land and a
multitude of offspring comparable to the sand of the Earth - how amazing!
Yaakov wakes up from his sleep and exclaims, "Indeed, Hashem is in this
place, and I did not know. He was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this
Hazal comment, "...and I did not know - meaning, for would I have known, I
would never have slept here!" What would he have done, then? Answers the
Seforno zs"l, that would he have known how sacred that spot was, he would
have prepared himself for prophecy. His comment seems, at first glance,
very difficult. Yaakov received his prophecy with no advanced preparation
whatsoever. He should have been elated! We never find a person who wins a
lottery feeling troubled afterward over the fact that he won without
investing any effort. So why was Yaakov so taken aback?
Obviously, there exists a qualitative difference between winning money in a
lottery and achieving spiritual wealth such as prophecy. With regard to
monetary acquisition, the exertion involved is but a means to the actual
acquisition. Its significance lies only in the eventual achievement. If
the money can be secured in any other fashion, such as a lottery, a gift or
inheritance, then all the better, despite the fact that one feels somewhat
less connected to money received effortlessly, and money easily made is
easily spent. Regarding spiritual riches, however, the effort and exertion
themselves transform the acquisition into an eternal source of inspiration,
as without them the understanding achieved is but superficial and fleeting,
like a dream. Therefore, Yaakov felt that he would have rather remained
awake, preparing himself for the prophetic vision, rather than simply going
to sleep and have it come to him with no effort invested.
In this way we can better understand the story in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah
17a) regarding Elazar ben Dordia who had plummeted to the lowest depths of
spiritual contamination, indulging himself in all worldly pleasures. One
day, he was aroused to perform teshuvah. He dropped his head onto his lap
and cried to the point where his soul departed from him. A heavenly voice
then declared that he was granted entry into the World to Come. The Gemara
then concludes, "Rebbe[Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, who compiled the mishnah] cried
and said, 'There are those who acquire the World to Come in a single
instant!'" Many have asked the obvious question, why did Rebbe cry because
of this phenomenon? Did he lose any of his portion because of those who
gain theirs in an instant? He should have been elated over the fact that a
fellow Jew was able to correct his deeds to the point where he is allowed to
enter Gan Eden and the World to Come!
The truth is, though, that Rebbe cried over that same Elazar ben Dordia.
The World to Come which one acquires in the flash of a single moment is
shallow and superficial. It lacks depth and substance, it is not absorbed
into the inner recesses of one's being. Perhaps such a person can be
compared to one stricken by a stomach virus who is given all the most
luscious delicacies in the world. He is not equipped with the proper
mechanism for digesting the food. How much compassion should we have for
such an individual!
We all trust that we will, please God, merit our portion in the World to
Come. Every Jew is guaranteed a place in the World to Come, but we will be
unable to experience its sheer profundity and appreciate all its splendor
beyond the extent to which we exert effort into our performance of missvot,
acts of kindness, and, above all, the study of Torah, most importantly, by
setting aside time to learn, despite the difficulty involved. But not
"despite" the difficulty, but specifically BECAUSE of the difficulty, for
our reward will correspond to amount of effort needed to perform, and in
this way we will merit our true portion in the eternal world of spiritual
THE GUARANTEED WAY TO RECEIVE ANYTHING
An awe-inspiring silence gripped the Bet Midrash during the speech of the
Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Avraham Yaphan zs"l. He was a most exalted figure, his
white beard dropping over his chest, his voice moderate but steady, speaking
with the confidence and composure of royalty. For many years he filled the
position of his father-in-law, the Saba of Nevarduk zs"l, sitting at the
helm of dozens of renown yeshivot. He stood and cited a piece from the
Midrash on our parashah. The Midrash describes how Rachel vented her
frustration over her infertility before Yaakov, asking Yaakov why he did not
pray on her behalf. She reminded him that his father, Yisshak, prayed on
behalf of his barren wife, Rivkah, and Hashem answered his prayer. Why
didn't Yaakov do the same?
Yaakov answered that Yisshak's prayer was effective because his only wife
was barren. He, on the other hand, had children from his other wife, Leah.
Therefore, his prayer would not have yielded results.
She retorted, "Your grandfather, Avraham, had a child from Hagar but still
prayed that his wife, Sarah, should give birth, and his prayers were
answered. You, too, can pray like Avraham!"
He responded, "Would you be prepared to do what Sarah did, to offer your
maidservant to your husband as a wife?"
She answered, "If this is what it takes, then so be it. Take my maid,
Bilhah, and my family will be built through her!" As we know, this is
exactly what happened.
The great rabbi lifted his eyes from book from which he was quoting and
asked, what does Yaakov want from his broken, desperate wife, Rachel?
Unquestionably, he already prayed and cried on her behalf, but his prayers
went unanswered. He realizes the reason for the ineffectiveness of his
prayers - she is barren, and supernatural intervention is required to open
her womb. His prayers are simply not enough, as he was already blessed with
children. He came up with an idea. If Rachel would make the same sacrifice
as Sarah, perhaps she will be blessed with children. The question begs
itself, had Rachel not made any such sacrifice up until this point that she
now needed to give her maidservant to her husband as a wife? Was it not
enough that when her father replaced her with Leah on what was to be her
wedding night, she gave the signals to Leah so she would not be recognized,
and thus she would be saved from embarrassment? Was this voluntary gesture
towards her sister, allowing her to marry Yaakov - was this not enough a
demonstration of devotion and self-sacrifice? Was this any less than
Sarah's giving Hagar to Avraham?
The question descended like a bolt of lightening upon the students of the
yeshivah. Rachel had waited seven years for her wedding, only to allow her
sister to take her place. What did Yaakov demand of her now? But Yaakov
was correct, for just after Yaakov married Bilhah, Rachel conceived. How
are we to understand this?
The Rosh Yeshivah continued and explained that Yaakov realized that his
prayers went unanswered, even the proverbial "gates of tears" were closed
and locked; they could not be penetrated. Rachel was barren, and,
seemingly, there was no way of changing that. There was but one way - to
operate according to the principle of "measure for measure." Hashem
conducts the world in such a way that a person is treated in accordance with
his behavior. One who has compassion for others is treated compassionately.
One who forgets and forgives has his transgressions forgotten and forgiven.
One who deals strictly with others, treating them by the letter of the law,
is dealt with similarly by the Heavenly Court. Now Sarah was barren and
infertile. She therefore brought Hagar into the home, allowing her the
great privilege of bearing a child for Avraham. Therefore, measure for
measure, she was given the same privilege.
Yaakov therefore told his embittered wife, there is clearly no way to
describe the sacrifice involved in transmitting the signals to her sister.
However, this was done not so Leah could bear children, but so that she
would not be put to shame. Therefore, as exalted as such an action was, it
could yield reward only measure for measure, that Rachel would be married to
Yaakov, but nothing beyond that. If she wants to bear children, she would
have to demonstrate her worthiness in this regard precisely, by giving her
maidservant to bear children for Yaakov. This is the only way.
The Rosh Yeshivah then cited the comment of the Gemara (Sanhedrin 90a) that
all of the Almighty's dealing with the world operates in this manner,
measure for measure. This is thus the most assured method of achieving
anything. One who strives to please his/her spouse will see that the
blessing of peace and tranquillity will descend upon the household. One who
works to help another secure his livelihood will find divine blessing in his
own savings. One who teaches Torah to another will sense how his heart and
mind are more capable of comprehending the Torah. It is worthwhile, then,
to try the most guaranteed method. Instead of employing all types of
frustrating means to achieve what we want, let us try to help others, and,
God-willing, all the goodness for which we strive will reach us in plenty,
with all the divine blessings of health and prosperity.