Parashat Vayeseh: Yaakob’s Dream
**L’iluy nishmat Natan ben Shoshana Levy**
In Parashat Vayeseh we read about the prophetic dream that Yaakob Abinu dreamt as he left Eretz Yisrael and made his way to Haran, where he would live and work for his uncle, Laban. In this famous dream, Yaakob saw a ladder extending from the ground to the heavens, with angels climbing up and down the ladder.
Why would Yaakob dream of a ladder? Righteous people generally dream about matters involving the Torah they are learning. Stories are told of great scholars who encountered a certain question or difficulty during their study, and that night, while they slept, they were shown the answer in a dream. Why would Yaakob, who had been learning Torah diligently for some sixty years, suddenly dream of a ladder?
The image of the ladder becomes especially difficult to understand in light of the comment of the Ba’al Ha’turim (Rabbenu Yaakob Ben Asher, 1269-1343) regarding Yaakob’s dream. The Ba’al Ha’turim observes that the word "Sulam" ("ladder") has the same Gematria (numerical value) as the word "Mamon" (136). In other words, Yaakob dreamt about money. Why would Yaakob have such a dream?
Yaakob was now going to live with his uncle, Laban, where he would work and become wealthy. After devoting his life until this point to Torah learning, the time had come for Yaakob to work and earn money. The purpose of this transition was to lay the foundation for Am Yisrael, the eternal nation which he would be producing. Am Yisrael would need different groups of people – those who devote themselves to Torah study, and those who work to support them. It was necessary for Yaakov to combine both pursuits – diligent Torah study, and hard work to earn a living – in order that his descendants, the Jewish Nation, would excel in both areas.
This, perhaps, is the meaning of Yaakob’s dream of the ladder. He dreamt of angels ascending and descending the ladder so that he would be shown the proper approach to materialism. The ladder – money – has value only if it has "angels," if it is used for, and channeled towards, lofty purposes. A person’s "ladder," his pursuit of wealth, can extend all the way to the heavens, have great spiritual significance, if he uses that wealth properly, supporting charitable causes, including the study of Torah.
Indeed, when Yaakob awakens, he immediately makes a pledge to donate a significant percentage of his earnings to G-d (28:22). He understood the message being conveyed through his vision, and thus committed himself to use his earnings for holy purposes.
May we all succeed in having our "ladder" extend to the "heavens," by ensuring to use our material blessings the right way and for the purpose for which we have received them.