This week begins with the exile of Jacob. Now it may sound strange to call Jacob’s flight from Canaan to Haran an exile. But the reality is, every time Jacob or one of Jacob’s descendants leaves the Land of Promise…it is exile, whether that exile comes by choice or is forced. Paul writes that the lives of the forefathers are illustrations for us. In 1 Corinthians 10 he writes, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition.” Paul is telling us to learn from the life of Jacob. The first verse of this portion says, “Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.” This verse hints to the consequences that happen when Jacob or his offspring leave the Land of Israel. The name “Beersheva—Seven Wells” represents a Land of prosperity. Beersheba was where Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had established himself in the Land of Canaan. God had blessed Abraham and there was water aplenty to go around. Jacob left “Beersheva—Seven Wells” behind, and was headed to the Land of “Haran” which is connected to the Hebrew word “Charar” meaning “Parched.” From this we learn that disconnection from the wellspring—the Covenant that God made with Abraham—leads to spiritual parchedness. The next verse begins by saying, “So he came to a certain place…” In Hebrew this phrase consists of two words, “V’yifga Bamakom.” The word “V’yifga” which is generally translated as “And he came/And he lighted upon/And he encountered,” comes from the root word “Paga” which can mean “to intercede or supplicate,” as when God tells Jeremiah, “ve’al tifga bi—nor make intercession to Me (on behalf of Israel).”  The Sages state that this phrase implies that Jacob was praying to God in that place, as it is written in the Talmud, Berachot 26b, “Jacob instituted the evening prayer.” Each of the 3 Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, established one of the 3 daily times of prayer. In Genesis 22 it says, “Abraham rose early in the morning,” thus instituting the daily morning prayer. Of Isaac it is written “Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening,” thereby establishing the afternoon prayer. Bringing us back to our story about Jacob. The full verse says, “So he [interceded in] a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set.” Jacob set a precedent for the evening prayers just as the sun was sinking over the horizon. Jacob was in communication with God, or, at least he was communicating at God, attempting to understand his situation. Here is the first place we should take note; when we find ourselves in exile, we pray, intercede, and make supplication to God.
“Jacob’s Dream” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1665.
There is another way to translate the word “Paga.” We have learned that this word can signify prayer. However, it can also quite literally mean “to fall.” Jacob is fleeing for his life, praying and interceding to God, when suddenly “V’yifga Bamakom—He fell upon a certain place.” If we read the text this way it seems as if Jacob “stumbled” into this place by random chance, and in Jacob’s mind, he probably did think it happened by accident. But it didn’t surprise God, for it was part of God’s plan. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Jacob signifies God’s encounter with us—unplanned, unscheduled, unexpected…It is not something we do. It is something that happens to us. Vayifga bamakom means that, thinking of other things, we find that we have walked into the presence of God.” It is interesting how later, after Jacob’s encounter, he says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Didn’t Jacob know that God is everywhere? Why would he make such a statement? I believe Jacob’s statement was not so much one of amazement that God was in that place; rather, it was a statement of awe recognizing that God had actually shown up. Sure, Jacob was praying and crying out to God, but who would have ever thought he would get an answer? Yet, God heard and revealed Himself. I believe that was the shock of Jacob’s statement, God had actually come when Jacob cried out to Him in “Hamakom—The Place.” What is important about the place Jacob encountered or had “fallen” into? Though the location of where this dream actually happened is disputed, many Rabbis have traditionally agreed that this place is connected to the site of the future Temple Mount. In Hebrew, it tells us that Jacob came to “HaMakom = the place.”Throughout the Bible, there is only one location continuously referred to as “the Place.” It is the Temple Mount. Remember, when Jacob awakes he states, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Now there is something else interesting about this “Vayifga bamakom” verse if we continue reading. The full verse says, So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set.” Rashi makes an interesting observation concerning the chronology of this verse. According to him, this verse ought to have said, Jacob “came…and because the sun had set, [he] stayed there all night.” The Rashi continues by explaining “The expression ‘Ki Va Hashemesh—because the sun had set’ implies that the sun set suddenly for him, not at its usual time, so that he would have to stay there overnight.” God caused the sun to set so that Jacob would have to “fall” into “the place” and encounter God. The darkness closed in faster than Jacob was expecting, because God wanted him to stop and experience Him. From this we learn that when the darkness surrounds us, it may be God wanting us to stop and look to Him; for it is in the darkest of moments that God is nearest. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes concerning this event, “[These] experiences take place, literally or metaphorically, at night. They happen when we are alone, afraid, vulnerable, close to despair. It is then that, when we least expect it, we can find our lives flooded by the radiance of the divine…That is how Jacob found God…Jacob, in flight, trips and falls – and finds he has fallen into the waiting arms of God…‘Now I know that You were with me all the time but I was looking elsewhere’ – that was Jacob’s prayer.” The next verse continues, “Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Jacob dreams of a ladder uniting heaven and earth, and on this ladder were angels ascending and descending. I find the order of the words “ascending and descending” very interesting. If the angels were “ascending” up to heaven before they were “descending” back to earth, it means that they were with Jacob in his difficulty. Jacob thought he was alone, but the “malchei Elokim—angels of God” had been “on earth” with him all the way to this point in his journey. It says that, “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” With the words “on it” we immediately assume that this is referring to the ladder. But upon further examination we find that the Hebrew word used here “Bo” can also be translated as “on him,” as in, “the angels of God were ascending and descending on him.” Yeshua, our Master, in John 1:51 tells His future disciple Nathaniel, Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Yeshua was telling Nathaniel that He is the ladder that connects heaven and earth. I believe this is the same idea God was attempting to convey to Jacob in his dream. Each of us has the ability to be a ladder and to bring God into the world. Yeshua is the ultimate ladder through whom the whole world becomes reconnected to the heavenlies. But once we are reconnected through Yeshua, we ourselves “ought . . . to walk just as He walked.” We ought to become “ladders for God”—connecting points between heaven and earth, just as Yeshua was. This is our calling!
Rav Moshe Weinberger makes an interesting comment about Jacob’s dream. He writes, “…the angels were ascending and descending on Yaakov Avinu (Jacob our father)…[and] the angels wondered, ‘How could it be that this person who is so great that Hashem (God) takes such pride in him and his face is carved above under the Throne of Glory is sleeping his life away?’” (The idea of Jacob’s face being carved in God’s Throne comes from Ezekiel 10:14.) The angels were confused. This human being who is viewed by God as so great and important was sleeping his life away? It is one thing to receive a vision and dream from God, the next important step is to wake up and accomplish it! We must daily climb the ladder of life which God has set before us and aspire to greatness, not for our glory, but to connect this world with the world to come! Rabbi Yisroel Salanter used to say that a person is like a bird. A bird has the ability to fly very high. But it must continually move its wings. If a bird stops flapping its wings, it will fall. Every person is similar. (From the book: Growth through Torah, pg.72.) God created each of us for greatness; know it, live it and bring to reality the idea that we are all ladders, connecting heaven and earth. God created each of with the potential to fly, the key is to continually move forward, flapping our figurative wings until we fly away to glory! Seeing that the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, “those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” As Paul says in the book of Galatians, Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.”

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

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