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   by Jacob Solomon

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 He dreamed… a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached Heaven… angels of G-d were going up and down it… Jacob woke up from his sleep… he became frightened and he said, "This is none other than the Abode of G-d, and this is the Gate of Heaven" (28:12,16-17).

The commentators discuss where this holy place was. Rashi, citing what appear to be contradictory statements in the Midrash and the Talmud, finally concludes that the Heavenly Temple corresponded to the site of the earthly Temple - Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. So Jacob's dream of the ladder and the angels took place where prayer was most readily acceptable; where the Divine Presence was at its most intense. Rashi expands on the above sources to show that there was a miraculous shrinking of the distance between Beth El and Jerusalem. This meant that Jacob returned to the place he had originally passed - the place of greatest sanctity - by supernatural means. Following the striking revelations in his dream, Jacob was distressed that he had unknowing slept at the most holy spot on Earth. He therefore at once made preparations towards consecrating both that place and himself (28:22) for G-d's service.

Two questions arise. According to the above, Jacob saw angels in a dream inside the Holy Land. Yet when returning, after he finally parted company with Laban, he actually met angels when he was still just on the border of the Holy Land. In the dream, Rashi explains that the group of angels of the Holy Land went up the ladder, and the group of angels from outside the Holy Land went down the ladder, to accompany him on his travels to Haran. Surely this changing of the angels should have taken place at the borders, not in Jerusalem? And on Jacob's return, would it not have been more fitting for Jacob to have actually met the angels when inside, rather than on the borders, of the Holy Land?

In dealing with these issues R. Chaim Wilschanski (see below) quotes the following anecdote:

In Poland, a Rabbi walked over to one of his congregants after the Amida prayer and gave him a hearty Shalom Aleichem. The person concerned was very surprised. "Rabbi, I have not been away. Why Shalom Aleichem?" The Rabbi replied: "I could not help noticing that during the Amida your mind was far away in the market place of Warsaw. Now that you have returned… Shalom Aleichem!"

R. Zalman Sorotzkin said: One's personality and status are not where one finds oneself physically, but where one's thoughts are.

This helps us to understand the issues. When Jacob was fleeing from Esau, his mind was set on leaving the Holy Land: eventually to arrive at Haran. His spiritual status was lower - he could only see angels in a dream. But when he and his family finally parted company with Laban, he was about to return to the Holy Land. This brought Jacob up the spiritual ladder - to the degree that he not only met the angels (32:2), but he actually sent them to pass a peace-making message to Esau (33:4; Rashi ad loc., Bereishit Rabbah 75:4).

From this discussion we see that the Holy Land is one, but only one vital element in Torah. We see that even the holiness of Jerusalem, by itself, was not sufficient to bring Jacob into direct contact with celestial beings. Indeed his first meeting with angels was on his return journey - just outside the Holy Land. When Jacob fled from Esau he was determined to get to the safety of Haran. Though this was the right thing to do in the circumstances, it left a side effect in the Creation - namely, the departure of the third Patriarch from the Holy Land. In addition, Jacob was single and poor: according to the Midrash Esau's eldest son had robbed him of what he possessed (Shemot Rabbah 31:17; see Rashi to 50:5). Thus he was unable to bring out the full positive spiritual characteristics of Jerusalem.

By contrast, when Jacob actually met the angels for the first time, he had progressed - both personally and spiritually. He had married, produced children, acquired wealth, and - under extreme stress - shown that the spirit of the Torah was not just for the life of recluse under Shem and Ever (see for example Bereishit Rabbah 68:10), but for survival, even in the harsh world of clever and dishonest business. As with the descending angels on the ladder, Jacob had brought the Torah teachings down to Earth.

It was these elements - coupled with his focus on returning to the Holy Land - which brought Jacob to the spiritual level that he could meet angels. We learn from here that although Israel is an important element in kedusha, it is not a free ticket to holiness. Its great segulot and treasures can be only brought out by spiritual endeavor and progress on the part of those who are there.

I have based some of this D'var Torah on R. Chayim Wilschanski's "For The Shabbat Table" - pp.45-7.



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