Parshas Vayeitzai: Ascending and Descending

ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו

He had a dream; and behold a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and malachim of Hashem were going up and down on it.

Yaakov Avinu left Be’er Sheva and was now enroute to Charan. It was suddenly nighttime and Chazal teach us that Yaakov lay himself down for a night-sleep for the first time in fourteen years. Taking the stones of that place, he put them under his head and he slept. His dream was a vision from Hashem of Malachim ascending and descending.   

Rashi asks the obvious question over here: עולים תחלה ואחר כך יורדים? Assuming that the place in which a Malach resides is upstairs in shomayim, it should have said yordim v’olim. It must be that these Malachim were actually starting from down below.

Of course, the question is what were they doing there? There are a number of answers brought in the meforshim. Rashi answers that מלאכים שלווהו בארץ אין יוצאים חוצה לארץ, ועלו לרקיע וירדו מלאכי חוצה לארץ ללוותו- Those Malachim who accompanied him in Eretz Yisroel were not permitted to leave the Land: they were the ones that ascended to Heaven. The Malachim that were to minister in Chutz L’Aretz descended to accompany him.

The He’mek Davar incredibly answers:מזה הבין שהשכינה למטה בארץ ומלאכים סביביו ועולים בשליחות ויורדים לאחר כן. והוא אות על השגחה פרטית על כל סביבות יעקב- from this it is understood that the Shechina was actually down below therefore causing the starting point to change. Why was the Shechina below? To signify the hashgacha pratis surrounding Yaakov!

The Em Lamikra (1800s) so beautifully answers that the ladder signifies the connection between what we do down below and how Hashem “reacts” above. The Malachim ascending refers to the Torah and mitzvos we perform and the tefillos that we express. Those are all “sent upstairs”. The descending Malachim refers to that which Hashem sends down to us in response. Therefore, it is upon us to realize that (to an extent) we can set the parameters of our relationship with Hashem because we are the starting point.

But now let us focus on the Midrash’s answer as brought in the Da’as Zekeinim M’Baalei Tosfos: והנה מלאכי אלקים עולים היינו המלאכים שהלכו להפוך את סדום שתלו הכבוד לעצמן שאמרו כי משחיתים אנחנו וגם גלו מסתורין של הקב"ה ולכך נדחו ממחיצתו של הקב"ה קל"ה שנים ועכשיו עלו: These were the Malachim that had come to save Lot and destroy Sodom. The pesukim tell us that after Lot begged the Malachim to stay with him, they came inside of his home. Moments later, there was loud banging and shouting coming from outside. The mob had arrived. They wanted Lot to hand over the “guests” to get to “know” them better. Lot willingly offered up his two unmarried daughters, rather than giving up his guests. Moments later, the Malachim told Lot that he had a last chance to save his family members, כי משחיתים אנחנו “because we will be destroying this place”. The Midrash (B”R 50) tells us, that when they said thisHashem put them into cheirim. They were not allowed to return to shomayim for 135 years.

Their sin was that they put their own kavod on the table by getting offended when the anshei s’dom made their terrible suggestion. Only after that, did they add that Hashem actually sent us. Now, 135 years later, the cheirem had finally ended and they had their first opportunity to go back upstairs.

The Be’er Moshe and others ask, why specifically at this point were they allowed back into shomayim? Yaakov Avinu was chased down by his nephew, Elifaz, with instructions to kill him. Yaakov convinced him to keep him alive by claiming that Ani nechshav k’mais. So he left Yaakov alive and stripped him of all his worldly possessions, save for his walking stick. How humiliating it must have been, as the once wealthy Yaakov now had not even a stitch of clothing. Still, that night, וישכב במקום ההוא- he slept a very restful sleep. He dreamed of the סלם מצב ארצה and he saw the Malachim עלים וירדים בו. Chazal tell us that Yaakov Avinu maintained his emunah and heilge madreiga even in the darkest moments. When he slept at night without any material items, save for a hard pillow made up of twelve stones, he slept like a baby would in its mother’s arms. He had no worries because he was in the Aibishter’s “hands”. There is nothing to worry about because “HaShem’s got me!”

It was only after the Malachim witnessed Yaakov Avinu’s disregard for his personal kovod that the Malachim were now ready to return. After observing Yaakov’s “at peace with whatever HaShem has planned for me” attitude, they realized that when it comes to avodas HaShem, there is no place for personal kovod. HaShem comes first. Only now, after this realization, did HaShem give them the green light to come back upstairs. 

Good Shabbos,  מרדכי אפפעל