Rabbi Assaf Harnoi
A story is told about a Rebbe from Gur, the author of “Imrei Emet,” who studied the weekly Torah portion with his young son. When they reached the story of Yaacov’s dream of a ladder, the Rebbe asked his son: If Yaacov saw a ladder standing on the earth and reaching up into heaven, why didn’t he take advantage of the situation and climb up into heaven?
The boy answered, “Right after this we are told, ‘Behold, G-d was standing on it!’ [Bereishit 28:13]. If G-d was already there why should he search for Him in another place?”
A Torah for Life
Many religions and faiths are based on a rejection of life and this world. In those religions, the “man of faith” yearns for a spiritual world which is beyond our real one. It is a world that is as far as possible from the world in which we live. The Jewish faith is the exact opposite of this. One of the basic building blocks of our belief is that the way to approach G-d is specifically through events that take place in our world.
The ladder which appears in Yaacov’s dream is an expression of this belief, which recognizes that a close approach to G-d takes place in our own world. While angels climb up and down the ladder, Yaacov himself remains below, on the earth. And that is where G-d is revealed to him and speaks to him.
Yaacov’s ladder is not so much a way to rise up to heaven as it is a way by which G-d can descend to be revealed down below.
The Gate to Heaven
The main question that we can ask is how it is possible to reveal and serve G-d in a world which is so far away from the heavens above. How can we bring about – as it were – the “descent” of the Holy One, Blessed be He, on a ladder, so that He will stand before us on the lowly earth?
When Yaacov wakes up from his dream he makes a definitive statement: “Yes, G-d is here at this place... this can only be a House of G-d, and here is the Gate to Heaven. (28:16-17].” After the tremendous revelation which he experienced, Yaacov knows with absolute certainty that G-d descends and lands on the earth. This is therefore “the Gate to Heaven.”
The Limit is the Gate
The expression, the “Gate to Heaven,” which Yaacov coined, holds within it a very deep significance. The way in which we, Bnei Yisrael, can bring about the descent and the revelation of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is through the “gates” which he provided for us. And these “gates” are the precise limits which we study and find in our holy Torah. They are the fine details of the laws and the mitzvot which we find in the books of halacha.
The concepts of “sha’ar” (a gate) and “shi’ur” (a precise limit) are related. When we maintain the limits which G-d gave us, we open up the gates of “heaven” for the Master of the Universe, so that He will be revealed and appear here on the earth.
A man who recites the Shema at the proper time is fulfilling the limit and the proper measure as was set by G-d. This leads to opening of the “gate,” which is thus revealed. A man who recites the Grace after Meals after eating an amount equal to the minimum amount of a kazayit is at the limit which G-d established, and this leads to the “gate” being opened.
This is G-d’s Gate, the Righteous Ones will Pass through It
There are times when taking great care with the details of the halacha, especially the precise limits involved, is difficult and wearying. At times it seems that true service of G-d is defined by those matters which are perceived as great and powerful, while paying attention to the details of the halacha and strict limits are esoteric and ridiculous.
However, this is definitely not so.
Through His wise men, the Holy One, Blessed be He, sets the limits and the proper measure for everything. The Holy One, Blessed be He, has chosen what will be the gate through which He will be revealed in the world. The brave souls who manage to maintain the limits of the Holy One, Blessed be He, in all their detail, are “the righteous ones who will pass through the gate of G-d” [see Tehillim 118:20].
How happy we should be and how good is our lot that our Torah is a Torah of life. How happy we should be that there is no need for us to climb up the high ladder to the heaven but rather we can open the proper gates which will bring the Holy One, Blessed be He, down to us, in all His glory, and there He will be in our midst.