Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rosh HaShanah 5632 Fourth Ma'amar

The Torah[1] relates that Ya’akov Avinu dreamt of a ladder reaching from the place he was sleeping to the heavens. He envisioned angels ascending the ladder and descending. What were these angels? The Midrash[2] on the pasuk that commands us to keep Rosh HaShanah explains that they were the guardian angels of the nations of the world. Ascending the ladder represented coming close to God; descending represented distancing from God. The angels coming close to God symbolized their constituent nations coming close to God. Their descending the ladder symbolized their constituent nations distancing from God.

God asked Ya’akov to ascend the ladder as well. Ya’akov, seeing the angels ascending and descending became afraid. He reasoned that just as the nations’ guardian angels descended, so too, he would be required to descend. Even though God told him that he would not descend, Ya’akov did not ascend the ladder. God said, “Because you did not believe Me, your descendents will be subject to the rule of the four kingdoms – Babylon, Media, Greece and Rome.”

How could it be that Ya’akov did not believe God? The Sfas Emes explains Ya’akov’s vision and the dialog between him and God. Each nation has a specific role and place in the world. Within the context of its mission, each nation can ascend – come close to God – by fulfilling its role.

The nation of Israel, too, has a role and place in this world. However, Ya’akov Avinu did not want us to ascend within that context. While a nation can come close to God, Ya’akov understood that the relationship between the nation and God is prescribed by the context of its role in the world. Ya’akov wanted our ascent towards God to depend upon our actions. If our coming close to God depends on our actions, we are not limited to the context of our role. The possibilities, then, are literally endless. Ya’akov decided that this was worth the danger of exile that could result from our actions.

Still, we are not at a disadvantage because of Ya’akov Avinu’s choice. Embedded in our spiritual roots is the ability to cry out to God and be heard even if we sometimes cannot reach this level through our actions. This is the meaning of the t’ki’os – the sounds of the shofar – on Rosh HaShanah. They represent our crying out to God without a reason, rather just to attach ourselves to our role, our portion in this world, to be able to cry out to God to save us and be heard – “הַקּוֹל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב/the voice is the voice of Ya’akov!” (Breishis 27:22)

[1] Breishis 28:10-12

[2] VaYikra R. 29:2

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