Updated: Nov 25, 2020
This parsha, Parshat Toldot, is so rich in events yet this poem was so difficult to write. The idea of a ladder originating in our dreams and reaching upward to the heavens is sublimely beautiful. That the ladder is populated by angels and God stands by Jacob at the bottom is a powerful statement. During this time God promises Jacob that God is with him, which brings comfort, but also responsibility. I wondered as I read what was the purpose of the angels? Why did they go up and down? Did they speak? What was the connection between Jacob and God and Jacob and the angels? Jacob is the representative of the Jewish people. He is Yisrael. What stands for Jacob must stand for all of us.
I remember once having a conversation with a rabbi. He spoke about a ladder and observance. He told me that sometimes people go up the ladder in terms of observance and sometimes they go down the ladder, but the hope is to stay on the ladder. This wisdom stayed with me and I hope that I have integrated that knowledge in some small way in this poem.
In this poem, "Ladders", I have imagined the tasks of the angels. Although they do not speak, they beckon, they challenge and they call the sleeping Jacob to action. We are Jacob and we are also called to action; to do good in the world.
There are ladders that take you upward
and ladders that bring you down
There are ladders that enable repairs
and ladders for firefighters to climb
Ladders for picking fruit and
ladders for kids to climb into their beds at night
And then there are dream ladders that lead to Heaven
There are ladders that lead underground
to sewers and underground caves
There are ladders to climb up to trucks and trains
And ladders children climb just to slide down
Ladders of opportunity we all wait to climb
There are ladders which bridge slippery slopes
And dream ladders connecting us to the Divine
Our daytime ladders allow us to climb
They connect the high and the low,
They enable us to work, to sleep, to provide
But the ladders of dreams connect heaven and earth
They reach back generations and extend
onward to a place beyond time
On our dream ladders, angels climb
God stands by our side
"Pick up your heads," the angels beckon
"From the pillows beneath you"
They urge us to join them on the ladder,
to do the work of God
The ladder points upward toward justice
The angels demand for us to climb on
To climb high for fairness and mercy
To join the work of the angels
and fight for peace and equity
Do not be afraid to climb onto the ladder
To do the work of lovingkindness
Let the stone on the ground be your marker
It is a starting place for honesty and truth
Remember, the holiness of justice extends upward forever
Hold onto that ladder, let it guide you upward
No matter how high or how low you go,
keep up the work of the angels
The God of justice stands beside you
Don't be afraid and don't let go
Parshat Toldot Breisheet 28: 10-12 (translation from Sefaria)
וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה׃ Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran.
וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא׃ He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃ He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.
וְהִנֵּ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵאלֹהֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃
And the LORD was standing beside him and He said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring.
This is the work of Cai Guoqiang. I took this photo from the website of the news source "The Daily Mail." This ladder was made by the artist to honor his grandmother. The work appeared on June 17, 2015.