And Yakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan. And he bumped into the place and he slept there because the sun had set and he took from the stones of the place and he placed them around his head and he lay down there. And he dreamed, and behold there was a ladder standing toward the earth and its head was striving heavenward, and behold angels of Elochim were going up and down on it. And behold HASHEM was standing over it and He said, “I am HASHEM the G-d of Avraham your father and the G-d of Yitzchok. The Land that you are laying upon I will give to your seed…” (Breishis 28:10-13)
Why did Yakov merit having this lofty vision on his way away from home?
The Midrash keys into the subject with a verse from Tehillim, “A Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Yehuda. G-d, you are my Almighty, I will seek You! My soul thirsts for You! My flesh longs for You, in a dry and weary land without water! So in the Sanctuary have I perceived You, to see Your might and glory. (Tehillim 63:1-3)
What does this have to do with Yakov leaving home and being treated to the image of a ladder that bridge heaven and earth? The Sefas Emes comments on the Midrash and states, “According to the greatness of the desire and the extent of the (magnetic) attraction that there is in a person to serve his Creator in a place which is a (spiritual) wilderness devoid of water, so he will be able afterwards to be attached to Holiness at the time when there is even a slight spiritual awakening…So it is in this world! According the greatness of the desire a person has for HASHEM, so will he be able afterwards to cleave to HIM in the next world. And so during weekdays that a person strives in the physical world which is “a weary land without water”, to that extent will he later merit on Shabbos Kodesh, which is like the next world, to revel in the pleasantness of HASHEM.”
Almost 3 decades ago a young man or shall I say boy came to Yeshiva Ohr Somayach in Monsey. It was not just that he was younger than the average student but his background and appearance were distinct as well. Avraham Ben Avraham had moved with his mother to Williamsburg Brooklyn, a richly Chassidic neighborhood, from Puerto Rico. As a non-Jewish Puerto Rican youth he worked in a local grocery store. He had an affinity and a facility for language, and he quickly learned to speak fluent Yiddish. After a while he developed a burning desire to convert to Judaism. He tried for a long time to find a sponsor but he must have seemed to be a risky candidate. After all conversion is a lifetime, all- time commitment. It cannot be just a fad- a phase a passing passion.
Eventually his persistence paid off and a certain Rabbi took him under his wing and prepared him for the big event. Avraham himself told me that on the day he was to receive the circumcision the Mohel brandished the knife and the Rabbi asked again as if to scare and discourage him, “Are you sure you still want to go through with it?” With his usual exuberance he declared, “Now more than ever!” Then he became Avraham! He told us that his mother remembers that back in Puerto Rico her mother used to light candles in the basement. Who knows!? Maybe this starved thirsty soul is from amongst those that were persecuted and forced to leave Spain in 1492. Perhaps he was a Jew all along living apart. All I know is that once he was reunited with Judaism and the Jewish People he was on fire with enthusiasm. Every week in Yeshiva, when the Havdala candle was extinguished in the wine signaling the end of Shabbos and the beginning of another week, he started dancing and singing excitedly, “Shabbos is coming! Shabbos is coming!”
Yakov was entering into a long protracted exile. We can only imagine the intense longing for holiness he experienced as he was becoming more distant from home with every step. Like a beach ball being forced to the bottom of the pool, the moment it is released it begins to climb to the top.
Since writing this I quite unexpectedly bumped into Avraham, as Yakov “bumped into the place”. I told him that I had written about him “as a beach ball rushing upward”. He chuckled and remarkably he responded just as when he faced the Mohel’s knife so many years earlier, “Now more than ever!”
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.