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Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. — Genesis 28:12

The Torah portion for this week, Vayeitzei, which means “and he left,” is from Genesis 28:10–32:3, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 11:7–12:14.

The Jewish sages teach that when Jacob was on his journey to the city of Harran, he ended up somewhere that he had not intended to go. But it was late, and so Jacob found a few stones, made a pillow, and went to sleep. As Providence would have it, the place where Jacob slept was the holiest place on earth.

There, he had his famous dream in which Jacob saw a vision of a ladder resting on earth, stretching up to heaven. Angels were going up and down on it. When Jacob woke up, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16). Jacob had unintentionally, but providentially, stumbled upon a virtual stairway to heaven.

Jacob’s vision was more than just the revelation of the ladder between heaven and earth; it was also the instructions for how to climb it. Jewish tradition teaches that when Jacob saw “a stairway resting on the earth,” he was shown a prophetic vision of Korah.

Korah was an evil person who would one day lead a rebellion against Moses and end up being swallowed by the earth. Jacob was shown Korah in the earth. Then, when Jacob was at the top of the ladder, he was shown Moses. Moses would be the holiest prophet who would ascend to heaven in order to bring God’s Word down to earth. Jacob saw Moses up in heaven.

The message? Every human being has the potential to reach the greatest heights or to sink to the deepest depths. You can be a Korah or a Moses; you can go up, or you can go down. But here’s what you can’t do on the ladder of life: You can’t stand still.

No one sits on a ladder. That’s why Jacob saw angels going up and down on it. Chairs and sofas are for sitting, but ladders are for moving up or down. No one can stay on one rung for very long. If you’re not headed up, gravity will pull you down. God’s message to Jacob that fateful night was: If you want to reach heaven, you will have to climb a little bit every day. You’ll have to work your way upward or else you will be headed in the other direction.

Which way are you moving on Jacob’s ladder? There is only one way to avoid sinking lower to the earth. And that’s to take one step up every single day. Are you inspired? Are you growing or are you stagnant? You do not need to take giant leaps to make it to the top — just steady progress, one rung at a time, every single day.

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