photo of a ladder pointing into the sky
Photo by Mykl Roventine via Wikimedia Commons.

Ladders

If angels can fly, why did they climb up and down the ladder in Jacob's dream?

In Jacob’s dream, why do the angels who ascend and descend need ladders? Aren’t angels supposed to be able to fly?

The angels teach us that realizing dreams requires a step-by-step approach. While they take a moment to conceive, dreams demand effort and time to achieve. Ascent is not easy. As the Kotzker Rebbe said, “there is nothing straighter than a slanting ladder.” Stand a ladder upright and it falls. The sloping climb of gradualism best serves even the noblest of dreams.

Ladders point in both directions. Rabbi Jose ben Halafta was once asked what God has been doing since the completion of creation. His answer was that God has been building ladders for some to ascend, and others to descend.

Yeats wrote: “Now that my ladder’s gone, I must lie down where all the ladders start, In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” Jacob lay down and found a ladder. It began in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart, but it also stretched to the heavens. Between heaven and the human heart, God has offered us a ladder.

Rabbi David Wolpe’s musings are shared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter, Recharge, a weekly collection of readings to refresh your soul. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

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