The ladder that Jacob saw had God’s angels going ‘up and down it’. The rabbis point out that it is a strange order. Surely God’s angels should be going down and up. I.e. wouldn’t they start in Heaven, come and do their work in this world and then return?
One of the things I love about Torah study is that that text is so rich and there are many layers of meaning, so you can reflect on it and make sense of it yourself. This is what occurs to me about this idea.
From the Torah’s perspective, malchai Elokim, angels of God seem to have a dual, albeit overlapping role. On the one hand angels are simply emissaries, delivering God’s message to human beings, as per the angels that visited Abraham in the portion a couple of weeks ago. But they also have a role of implementing God’s will as, in the same portion, the one that destroyed Sodom and Gomora.
And so, I believe the way that God’s will happens in this world is indeed, ‘up and down’, not ‘down and up’. God does not initiate; he responds. He takes a back seat, letting us take the driving seat. ‘Man proposes; God disposes’, as they say. A person goes into his or her field and plants wheat – thus sending a message to God, an ‘angel’, saying that he wishes for God to give him wheat. In turn, God sends his angels to earth to ensure that the wheat grows.
There is no guarantee, of course, but generally speaking, an angel sent to Heaven with a message, is responded to with an angel of implementation being sent to earth.
I’m a bit of a worrier. I wish I wasn’t but I am. It’s an addiction and the media are my best dealers. They gladly feed my craving. In difficult economic times – such as the media is telling us that we are living in (because I don’t see significant changes in my day-to-day life) – I sometimes find myself participating in the feeding-frenzy of worry about the future. And the principle of angels going up and then coming down sometimes eludes me.
But that is the nature of the world. When we work hard with trust and commitment, the world responds to us with its bounty – even in ‘challenging’ times. Yes, there are times when the world gets turned on its head. I was, this week, in Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial – a stark reminder of how crazy our world can become. But, thank God, that is rare. And when you are in such a time, you know that you are. Thank God, we are not. On the whole, angels do come down in response to the angels we send up. In our own lives, we are a generation that has never seen anything different. It’s important to live with that confidence and hope – because angels only respond, they are not proactive. We are the ones who need to make the effort. Because if we do not propose, we give nothing for God to dispose.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Jacob leaves Canaan for Haran, arriving 14 years later. On the way, he experiences his famous vision of the ladder stretching to heaven. He arrives at the home of his wonderful uncle Laban: a good-for-nothing of the highest order who misses no opportunity to try to steal from and cheat his nephew out of all he has.
Jacob wishes to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. He works seven years for her and then Laban substitutes Leah under the chuppah. He works another seven years for Rachel. He fathers eleven sons and a daughter. Jacob works for Laban for another six years, during which time he makes Laban into a very wealthy man and, although Laban tries to swindle him at every turn, Jacob manages to make himself into an even wealthier man. Finally, the time has come and he packs his bags and begins the long journey home to Israel.