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Torah from my beloved friend Tzvi Moshe Kantor:

In the start of this week’s Parsha we are shown one of the most powerful pieces of imagery that Torah has to offer. Says the Passuk, “Va’Ya’Chalom V’Hinei Sulam Mutzav Artza V’Rosho Magia HaShamaima.” ‘And Yaakov dreamt, and look! A ladder was set in the earth and its top was reaching heavenward.’

In Bereishis Rabbah we equate this incident of the ladder to Har Sinai. How is this so? First we should point out that the word Sulam (Samech, Lamed, Mem) and Sinai (Samech, Yud, Nun, Yud) share the Gematria, numerical value of one hundred and thirty. When the Sulam is Mutzav Artza, planted in the ground, this parallels when the Jews were (Shemos 19:17) “Va’Yis’Yatzvu Tachas Ha’Har” They stood at the foot of the mountain, at its lowest point. When The Passuk says Magia Shamaima, reaching the heavens it is a reference to the Passuk (Dvarim 4:11) that describes the scene at Har Sinai with the language “V’Ha’Har Boer B’eish Ad Lev Ha’Shamayim” A fire burned from the mountain until the heart of the heavens.

The Gemara in Shabbos 146:a says that upon their arrival at Har Sinai all the spiritual filth and impurities that was stuck to the hearts of the Jews departed and ceased to be. Why is this so? The Nesivos Shalom explains based on the ladder. The Sulam is not just an image, it is a system of religious growth. What the ladder represents is that everything in life is a stepping-stone, a rung for progress. Every single part of life is part of the greater framework of my Avodas Hashem. And this is why the Jews at Har Sinai left behind all their darkness. Because when I enter into Har Sinai and begin my deep bond with Torah, then it becomes clear that all parts of my life are part of the greater framework, and when my whole life is geared to Avodas Hashem it’s not such a far task to drop my darkness.

Man is described in many ways throughout Torah literature. Among those titles is a ‘Mehalech’ ‘One who goes.’ Man is a creature of constant movement, motion and development. Let’s spell this idea out further.

The Yismach Moshe explains that the ladder in Yaakov’s dream is a metaphor for man himself. The original man, Adam HaRishon was formed from dirt, and thus was set Mutzav Artza, earthward. On the other hand, Hashem blesses him with a Neshoma, a godly soul that is Magia Shamaima, reaching the heavens. When I allow my dirt (my body) do drag me down and dominate me, then I get caught up in Mutzav Artza. But if I tap into who I really am on the inside, my Neshoma, then I can start to be Magia Shamaima, reaching the heavens.

We are similar to a ladder in another way. The Chofetz Chaim says a beautiful idea. No one goes onto a ladder simply to hang out. A person on a ladder is doing one of two things: going up or going down. Every experience has the ability to bring a person up or drag him down, depending on the response. But no one is simply standing still. Says Rav Yisroel Salanter, man in the same way is like a bird. A bird can reach unbelievable heights as long as its keeps flapping its wings. The moment it stops to cognitively keep itself in the air, it can fall from those very heights.

Rashi points out that the ladder was on an angle. While this is a seemingly unimportant detail the sefer Ta’am V’Da’as brings out an unbelievable idea. Imagine a series of people simultaneously climbing the same ninety-degree straight ladder. Any person who looks straight up, sees only the people above him, and when looking down, only sees those below him. But this is not the case in the ladder of Avodas Hashem. If the ladder is slanted and you stare straight up, all you see is the heavens, and when you look down all you see is how high you’ve climbed. I don’t need to concern myself with spiritual accomplishments or shortcomings of others! It’s none of my concern! If I’m so obsessed with where everyone else is holding on the ladder that’s Magia Shamaima then I’ll never have any time for myself! I need to constantly push myself!

The Kol Simcha points out that the idea of the ladder is introduced with the language of Hinei, ‘behold’ (as opposed to Haya which is interchangeable), and this ‘Hinei’ repeated two more times! We know that this form of introduction always brings in a theme of joy. He goes on to explain that the ladder is showing me that I must, like a ladder, grow with the appropriate steps. But how do I know when it’s time to move on? How do I know when I can grow to higher levels? Only when I truly feel comfortable with me; when I am experiencing a ‘groove’ and an inner joy with how I’m doing, can I now re-exert myself! It’s mamesh a plague when people start to judge their accomplishments based on those above and below them. We are all on a slanted ladder! I need to grow based on me, not based on the guys above or below me- All I need to do it focus.

Rebbe Nachman Mi’Breslov says that when I fall, I have to pick up and start serving Hashem with the mindset that I have never served Him before in my entire life! If I fail to see the movement and progression that I expect of myself than there is an unlimited amount of times I can refresh my Avodas Hashem. My Father in Heaven never gets tired of hearing me say “This time will be different.”

I need to wake up and take an honest accounting to see if I am growing at a pace that is fitting for me. All too often, after a good gaze into the mirror I’ll see that I can do so much more, and when I see this there is only one piece of advice, and it is simple. It’s so simple that I can give it to myself without any guidance whatsoever. If I see that I can be doing more, START CLIMBING! As long as I keep pushing, utilizing all things in my framework of growth, I’ll always be okay.

The sooner I get in touch with who is really me, understanding and getting a grip on my surroundings, putting a focus on my strengths and working on my weaknesses, the sooner I’ll be able to be Rosho Magia Shamaima. I’m not going to tap into my Neshoma if I focus on everyone but me. I can’t worry about what other people wear do or say.

If we can put the focus on personal growth, there are no limits on the heights can we achieve. When we all do our personal best there is no doubt that we will live lives of satisfaction and fulfillment, moving closer to the Creator, and thereby closer to the REDEMPTION!

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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