When I was still a child it just blew my mind every time I heard the story of Moses descending from Sinai with the Ten Commandments. Back then I pictured the ancient world as a disorganized violent place where incredible muscle bound hulks traipsed about dragging damsels in distress by their hair and killing at will. Nothing could be further from the truth. The same societal ills that plagued our fore fathers plague us today. Growing up in the United States it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that since the Emancipation Proclamation slavery is no more or since the Wolf of Berlin placed the barrel of his luger to his head and pulled the trigger genocide is a cruel joke from the past. Vayetze addresses this naivety .
Almost half way through Genesis this week’s portion reads almost the same as the previous portions just with different names. Jacob is deceived in a similar way in which he deceived his father Isaac, Rachel becomes increasingly jealous at Leah and Bilhah for conceiving Jacob’s children, Laban covets Jacob’s wealth, and Hashem intervenes once again this time with dreams.
What sets Vayetze apart is Jacob’s ladder dream with celestial beings climbing up and down. At first I am a little puzzled that a ladder and not a tree appears in his dream. Trees are so important to Jews of all walks, trees represent life, knowledge, and mysticism, plus like a ladder you can climb up and down. So why a ladder and not a tree? Trees are climbed for fun but ladders are climbed for work. When you climb a ladder you look up or down and then move a rung consciously in your desired direction. Climbing a tree you scurry, reach, jump, swing, and smile your way around and down. Hashem placed a ladder in Jacob’s dream to show him and us that just living life in a way where you just go with the flow while easy is not what is expected from us. Hashem forgets nothing and through his covenants He is being patient and working really hard with humanity to get us back to a Eden-esq or Messianic state of being. The Ten Commandments are being written one by one on the tablets in Sinai they just will not be finished until many years later after Moses climbs the mountain like a ladder a second time.
Today we may have better technology, more comfortable lives, and more transparency in society but at our core our dilemmas are no different than those faced by Jacob. The ancient world is no more or less savage than the one today. Not just in war zones or developing countries but everywhere even in the only super power left in the world. I remember once when I was kid I decided to climb a pine tree. For over an hour I battled with bark in my eye, limbs scrapping open my skin, sap dripping all over me. It was a slow and painful process but I kept reaching and striving for that next rung of branches. When I made it to the top sure I was happy but I knew I would have to start the same painful process to descend. I may have went home with my eyes red and swollen, with blood oozing out of my hands and arms, and my clothes and hair matted with sap but I learned a lesson that is still with me to this day. The easy way is to just stay where your at flowing with the good and bad at the same time. Taking the first step in either direction is hard work in fact so hard that each additional step after the first is just another first step.
I challenge all of you to strive for that first step up, counter complacency and the wicked who are taking steps down. Tikkun Olam can only start inside of you.
What first steps have you worked hard to take? Do you ever stop for a break? Tell us about it comment below.