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The Weekly Davar
In memory of Barry Taylor Z"L
Jacob leaves Canaan for Haran, arriving 14 years later. On the way, he experiences his famous vision of the ladder stretching to heaven.
He arrives at the home of his wonderful uncle Laban: a good-for-nothing of the highest order who does not miss a single opportunity to steal from his nephew and cheat him out of all he has.
Jacob wishes to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. He works seven years for her and then Laban substitutes Leah under the chuppah. He works another seven years for Rachel. He fathers eleven sons and a daughter. Jacob works for Laban for another six years, during which time he makes Laban into a very wealthy man and, although Laban tries to swindle him at every turn, Jacob manages to make himself into an even wealthier man. Finally, the time has come and he packs his bags and begins the long journey home to Israel.
Jacob’s dream is of a ladder ascending to Heaven. The Rabbis understand this as a metaphor. The way to Heaven is a ladder. You climb it rung by rung. There may be the odd rung or two that you can skip, but in general, it’s a slow and continuous process.
There were no elevators or escalators at the time the Torah was written, but even if there were, the metaphor would remain a ladder. There are no shortcuts. If a person wants to become a great human being, it’s a day to day process, climbing one rung at a time.
In a quick fix generation, this can be a little hard for us to swallow. We are always looking for shortcuts. We’d rather tie our stomachs or suction out the fat instead of going on a diet; work so we can pay a nanny rather than look after the kids ourselves; send an impersonal text rather than the ‘effort’ of relating to someone on a phone call, let alone meeting face to face. There are many roads that offer shortcuts to Heaven – minus the real effort. Kabbala (Jewish mysticism) is one example. Learn the mystical books, wear red strings on your wrist, drink the holy water and Heaven is yours. Or the success road – make a lot of money, give it very visibly to charity and allow everyone to tell you how wonderful you are and how you are on the quick elevator that doesn’t even stop at floors along the way. When enough people tell us something, we start to believe it ourselves.
But the metaphor the Torah uses remains a ladder. You want to reach your full potential as a human being, you need to get out into the world today and find good that you can do, seek wisdom to learn and grown And then you need to do the same again tomorrow, the same again the day after and the same again the day after that. They days need to become weeks, the weeks months, the months years and the years decades. And slowly, but very surely, you ascend the ladder. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say. Live a good life, live it quietly and humbly but steadily. That’s the path to greatness, the path to ultimate fulfilment – in Judaism, the path to Heaven.
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