Drash Cards for VaYeitze (5777)
By Marc Mangel
- Jacob rushes out of home towards Haran, stops in a place, and has a dream. What new idea could possibly be said about this part of the parsha.
- First, what is ‘the place’? According to Rashi the place is Mount Moriah – where the Akeda occurred – since the same description is used in Bereisheet 22:4 as Abraham and Yitzchak approach it.
- Second: Jacob dreams and there is a ladder, and “behold, angels of God ascending and descending it”. The question here is: why are the angels not descending, to take Jacob some place, and then ascending?
- Rashi gives the interpretation about the angels escorting him to see the land of Israel, and some of the angels cannot leave the land but others can.
- I’d like to offer a different interpretation, based on my study of the book “Exploring the Soul” by the Fifth Chabad Rebbe Rabbi Shalom DovBer (1860-1920), who was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and whose writings are very psychological.
- Rabbi Shalom DovBer interprets that being made in the image of God means that we have a transcendent (ie beyond the body) soul inside our physical bodies and the entire purpose of our existence is to find ways for the Godliness inside of us to emerge.
- That is, there are windows or doors that we open through our behavior so that our Godly souls express themselves. This is how we great a dwelling place for God in this physical world – by expressing our Godliness.
- So, I put to you that the angels are ascending and then descending (rather than the reverse) because what is happening at that very holy spot is that Jacob is opening windows and doors for his Godliness to express itself.
- If you buy this argument, the implications for us are profound. It means that the purpose of the mitzvoth is not a checklist against which we get graded (did 18 of 25 possible mitzvoth today, ate 16 out of a possible 21 kosher meals this week) but rather a way to help us release our Godliness.
- Indeed, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote that “a ladder was standing on the ground” should be interpreted as “Prayer is the ladder that connects souls and Godhood”
- The notion of opening windows gives a new interpretation to somebody becoming religious. For example, I know a young man who as an undergraduate – completely secular – went on a Birthright trip in 2004. Today, he is a Chabad Rabbi. Clearly, Birthright did not ‘make him religious’, but being in the same holy land as Jacob was opened windows or doors and excited his transcendent soul.
- These interpretations mean that when we experience a spiritual moment we know that we have opened a window or door for our Godliness in this world. It also means that we can’t say “I went to XX and it did not move me spiritually”, rather we must say “I went to XX and I was unable to move myself spiritually”.
- This puts a burden on us, but the payoff is enormous.