Vayetse - weekly Torah portion

November 24, 2017

Jacob was assigned with a task and he sets himself to the voyage towards Paddan-aram to find a wife for himself. The evening falls and he falls asleep and dreams. In his dream, “behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” The most common translation to the word “בּוֹ” (Bo) is “on it” however it does not seem to capture the essence of what is actually said and I would like to suggest that a better translation would be “therewith”. We see a hint to that in Midrash Rabah where two rabbis debate what this word “בּוֹ” really refers to. Rabbi Heya suggests that they are going “up and down on the ladder” while Rabbi Yanay suggests that they are going “up and down of Jacob”.

 

 

 

 

No solution to the deliberation between the rabbis is presented but one suggestion is that if we read the words as is then the reference is to the ladder. On the other hand, what would be so surprising of angles going up and down on a ladder between heaven and earth that would require the use of the term “behold”?! Here I think that the surprise has to do with the direction, rather than going down and then up, we are in for a surprise, going up and then going down, and therefore what Rabbi Yanay suggests may be a more sophisticated way to understand what is said there. These angels represent the good deeds of Jacob, and they go to the heavens, and those which are bad, descend, and go back to earth.

 

The scripture continues, “behold, the Lord stood above it and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants’.” Again I think the translation does not do justice to the words “נִצָּב עָלָיו”, Nitsav Alav, because in Hebrew it is not clear if the meaning is of God standing on the ladder, as is suggested in the common translation, or, as I would suggest, that God stood above him, that is above Jacob’ looking over at him and making a great promise to Jacob. That promise is tied to the need of Jacob and his descendants to have angles going up the ladder rather than angles going down the ladder. Those who are going up represent the good doers and those that descend represent leaving the good and returning to the bare and dry materialism where there is no connection between the person and God, a tight connection between Heaven and Earth.

 

Climbing ladders for the purpose of descent seems unfortunately to be the order of the day of the government of Israel, its ministers and deputy ministers. What is worrying is also the number of descents in comparison to the very few ascents. We see that in what I will delicately identify as odd legislation, a violent political discourse, and hand bending on issues related to the public face of the Shabbat in Israel. To all that one may add the recent outburst of the deputy minister of foreign affairs addressing Diaspora Jewry. Ultimately, this kind of arrogant and patronizing language is a rapid descent on the ladder. Rather than an attempt to find ways to jointly ascend the ladder, finding ways to get people closer and coherent, we face walls of contempt. True, the deputy minister has experienced an injustice when prevented from speaking in the United States in one or another event. There was not good reason to do so. However, the big difference is that when she was denied to opportunity to speak it was done by an organization and when she speaks she is supposed to represent the state. That has not happened – she has failed.

 

Twelve days from now the Union for Reform Judaism shall begin is 2017 Biennial in Boston. Over five thousand people will meet there, including several tens of Israelis from our Movement, for an exciting event. For those there for the first time it will be a life changing event. Delegates will experience many interesting meet ups, exchange of ideas and opinions, and it is also safe to expect a lively debate about affairs concerning Israel. We absolutely understand that we cannot allow the bond between Jews leaving in Israel and outside of it to be disrupted, and this is particularly true to the ties with North American Jewry. Despite the difficulties, and regardless of the attempts to use an insulting and belittling dialog with the Reform Movement by the government of Israel, we will be there to ensure that the ties with Israel not only remain but also become stronger. To build and create new ties and to say clearly and succinctly that Jews leaving outside of Israel are our partners in what happens and what needs to continue to happen in Israel, their home away from home. We will encourage our friends and supporters to do the right Zionist deed which is to do more, invest more, visit more often, become more influential, build another community, erect another synagogue. This investment in Israel yields results and is highly appreciated. It may not be the most pleasant of things to be exposed to the harsh language used but we want you to know that our message is understood and is accepted in growing numbers in the Israeli society. We need your work on the ground in Israel and elsewhere and the more we can do that together, the more resources we can put in place, the more successful we shall be. Let us make sure that our deeds ascend the ladder of Jacob to success and growth.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 24 November 2017, 7 Kislev, 5778

 

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