Warned that his brother Esav is seeking to kill him, Yaakov flees and settles down for the night. “And he dreamed, and behold!, a ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward, and behold!, angels of
Abarbanel lists eight different interpretations of this enigmatic dream that are mentioned in other commentaries. Although he acknowledges that each of them is valuable, he notes that none of them connects the dream with Yaakov’s immediate circumstances, the fact that he “stole” his father’s blessing from his brother Esav and was now fleeing for his life. The eight interpretations are as follows:
- Rashi:Yaakov is being shown the superior status of the Land of Israel. The angels that accompanied him in Israel are ascending back to that high spiritual level. The descending angels point to the fact that all locations outside of Israel are on a lower spiritual level.
Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer:The angels represent the four kingdoms that would oppress the Jewish people: Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome. Their ascent and descent indicates that the waxing and waning of their oppression of Israel comes directly from
- Ibn Ezra:The ladder represents man’s higher soul and the angels represent man’s rational intellect.
Ramban:The angels are
G-d’s “agents” to direct the fortunes of the nations. Metaphorically speaking, they descend to see what the nations are doing, and then they ascend to “report” their findings to G-d. They then return to earth to carry out G-d’s will. Yaakov, however, has a direct connection to G-d, and is not dealt with via intermediary angels.
- Rambam and Ralbag:The verses quoted refer to seven distinct aspects of the unity and interconnectedness of all of the spiritual, intellectual and metaphysical elements of the universe.
Rambam:The dream symbolizes that
G-dis the sole Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, and that all spiritual and material existence is intertwined. The ladder symbolizes those who wish to ascend to a spiritual level that will enable them to begin to understand G-d’s true essence.
- Rambam:The symbolism can also be understood to relate entirely to different dimensions of the physical world.
- Unnamed source:The ascending and descending angels represent the accomplishments of individuals in the material world. These accomplishments, as laudable as they may be, have no permanence. Yaakov and his descendants, however, are not under the control of natural forces. As a result, their accomplishments will be permanent.
However, none of these explanations has a direct connection to Yaakov. Furthermore, why was this prophecy given to him at this particular time and in this particular place? Why wasn’t it given when he was at home or in the House of Study? Why didn’t Avraham or Yitzchak have a similar vision?
Abarbanel explains that Yaakov, because he abandoned his possessions and fled for his life, may have regretted placing himself in such great danger by having taken the blessing away from Esav. Perhaps what he did was not really looked upon favorably by
To demonstrate to Yaakov the depth and power of this protective providence, the verse tells us that
In terms of the second promise, that he and his progeny would inherit the Land,