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Posted on November 23, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place, and I did not know.”[1]

The word for “from his sleep” is mishnaso. A midrash[2] curiously suggests that it should be read as mimishnaso – from his learning. How are these related, and what is the midrash trying to tell us?

A Mishnah[3] teaches that all our actions should be for the sake of Heaven. Rambam[4] explains the implications: A person, he says, should eat and sleep and engage in commerce – all with one intention: that he should have the strength to learn and deeply comprehend Torah, and perform his avodah. One who does so cannot be considered idle even when asleep. Rather, he is seen as performing a mitzvah and learning Torah, since his rest is a necessary preparation for his Torah study!

Yaakov was no slouch, and no late-riser. Chazal tell us that he eschewed regular sleep all the years that he spent in Shem’s beis medrash. This was the first night in many years that he allowed himself some conventional sleep. And it is clear that his intention in getting this rest was pure. Were it not, he would not have been graced with his prophetic vision that evening. Clearly, his sleep was regarded positively in heaven, as fulfilling a mitzvah.

This is what the midrash means in substituting mimishnaso for mishnaso. Yaakov’s sleep had become an integral part of his learning.

This explains as well the gemara’s[5] understanding of the angels ascending and descending the ladder that Yaakov saw in his vision. The gemara explains that the angels ascended to the heavenly throne, where they saw Yaakov’s image engraved upon it. When they subsequently descended, they found him asleep. They were livid to find a Yaakov with such potential wasting his time sleeping, basking in self-indulgence, and accomplishing nothing of value during that time. They wished to harm him. He was saved only by Hashem’s standing over him and protecting Yaakov from their designs.

The angels could not read Yaakov’s mind. They saw an inactive, inert Yaakov, apparently failing in his mission. Hashem, however, knew Yaakov’s intentions. He understood that Yaakov slept for the sole purpose of renewing himself, so that he could better attend to his avodas Hashem the next day. This saved him from the wrath of the angels.

Indeed, the ladder itself spoke of earthly events rising to the level of cosmic significance. The ladder was planted firmly on the ground, but reached the heavens. It spoke of pedestrian actions attaining significance in shomayim, if they were accompanied by mitzvah intentions.

Yaakov’s ladder shows us that we can turn every second of life, 24/7, into avodas Hashem.

  1. Bereishis 28:16
  2. Bereishis Rabbah 69:5
  3. Avos 2:12
  4. Hilchos Deos 3:2
  5. Chulin 91b