Vayeitze: Discovering the Divine ladder within


Who has time to pray these days? We barely get to talk to our friends and family, so who has time to talk to God? 

Young Jacob is running away from home to escape the jealous rage of his brother Esau. Mom and dad have promised him Divine blessings; however, Jacob has yet to experience a direct encounter with God. As the sun sets, he realizes he must stop and find a place to sleep for the night. Jacob was not a “man of the field” like his brother. He was really a man of the tent, who spent most of his time cooking with his mom and studying Torah. Now he is alone at night in the wilderness with no tent, no mom and no pillow. “He took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” (Genesis 28:11-12) Before this dream, Jacob had reached rock bottom (literally), yet from this low vantage point, he was able to look up and see the path to heaven. He finally gets a promise directly from God that his promises of blessing will indeed come true. Then he wakes up and exclaims, “Wow! Adonai is in this Place, and I didn’t even know it!”

When we are at our lowest and darkest moments in life, it often feels like our connection to God has been lost entirely. Jacob’s story teaches us that no matter where we are on the ladder, we are always connected. One of the names we use for God when comforting a mourner is HaMakom which literally means “The Place”; though at times we may feel very distant from God, there can be no place devoid of the Divine presence. We are always connected whether we realize it or not.

As Jacob discovered in his dream, the path of Divine connection is right here, right now. We carry this ladder around with us everywhere we go in our very bodies. Our spines are the ladder, carrying messages from above to below and sending messages back up from the body to the brain above. We can find that connection to God through our own Divine image by stilling our minds and calling awareness to our breathing and our thoughts. But who has time to meditate? If you are like Jacob and you are always on the run, try creating a nighttime ritual just before bed. First, still your mind with slow deep breathing, take a deep breath and then say the Shema really, really slowly and keep a dream journal by your bed with a pen, ready to write.

Like Jacob, you just might discover that God was in your life and you didn’t even know it! 

AARON PHILMUS is rabbi of Temple Torat Yisrael in East Greenwich.