Get Low To Get High
The Ladder of Angels
One of the many things I have been working on as a new parent is finding the balance between recognizing something as a moment of existential questioning and reminding myself that he’s just a baby doing baby things.
A 3:45am kvetch-session? Just a baby.
A thunderous poop after just having cleaned a different thunderous poop? Just a baby.
Wondering if normalcy will ever return? Worthy of existential pondering!
While the last one is kind of in jest, there are moments of real lowliness in early parenthood, as I am learning firsthand. Even with all the reassurances from others that it will pass and things will get better (and understanding that intuitively!), those pockets of struggle are real. Having that voice in my head that reminds me he’s just a baby is helpful, as is reminding myself that feeling helpless can also provide potential uplift.
A similar scenario is laid out in the portion this week. As Jacob continues his fleeing from his brother’s righteous rage, he alights (a word we should use more often) on a certain place. In that spot (Genesis 28:12):
וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃
He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and messengers of God were going up and down on it.
A powerful image of divine beings on a ladder to the heavens begs for interpretation. We have to remember that this is a particularly troubled moment for Jacob. He doesn’t really know where he stands in the eyes of God after his past actions. Speaking to this and the particular motion of the angels ascending and descending, the Degel Machane Ephraimoffers the following teaching:
It is impossible to stand on one step forever. A person must always go up and down. Going down is a necessity for rising up again. When you feel this smallness in your heart and you seek out God in that moment, there will you find the Divine, here known as, the place, מָּק֜וֹם. From that lowliness and searching, a ladder was presented to Jacob and on that ladder, an opportunity to rise up was given.
That is to say, in the eyes of the DME, this whole dream/moment was a chance opportunity for Jacob to ascend from his spiritual lowliness. Not an escape or a concealment but rather an opportunity to meet it where it is and learn from it, so long as he did it with an open and honest heart.
It’s a powerful musing for all of our lives. For truly, it is impossible to stand on one step forever. Jacob was in a real bind. He thought his was brother was coming to kill him. Yet, he rose to become one of the fathers of the people. We too can confront these moments and if done authentically, not shying away or burying our heads, we can ascend.
That inspires me in this moment. Because sure, sometimes a baby is just a baby. Other times, when it’s hard to remember that, I think of the ladder in front of me. Maybe I am on the descent in that moment. Yet, I know, in a quasi Alfred Pennyworth-Batman style “why do we fall” conversation, we can pick ourselves up with a divine nudge.
Wherever you are alighting these days, may you too find your ladder of ascending and descending angels to inspire you that even in your low places, the heights are still reachable.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend
Moshe Chayim Ephraim of Sudilkov-18th Century Poland