Off the Pulpit


In Jacob’s dream, why do the angels who ascend and descend need ladders? Aren’t angels supposed to be able to fly?

The angels teach us that realizing dreams requires a step-by-step approach. While they take a moment to conceive, dreams demand effort and time to achieve. Ascent is not easy. As the Kotzker Rebbe said, “there is nothing straighter than a slanting ladder.” Stand a ladder upright and it falls. The sloping climb of gradualism best serves even the noblest of dreams.

Ladders point in both directions. Rabbi Jose ben Halafta was once asked what God has been doing since the completion of creation. His answer was that God has been building ladders for some to ascend and others to descend.

Yeats wrote: “Now that my ladder’s gone, I must lie down where all the ladders start, In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” Jacob lay down and found a ladder. It began in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart, but it also stretched to the heavens. Between heaven and the human heart, God has offered us a ladder.