Yaakov’s Ladder or the Migdal Bavel

It’s a gut-wrenching survey.

It’s the 2015 Scottish survey on careers that documents that 90% of us make serious mistakes when choosing or starting careers.

And do you know why so many mistakes are made? It’s because we don’t adequately prepare for our careers before we start them. That unpreparedness fosters mistakes.

Yes, we must prepare ourselves before we embark on a new venture.

And the best method of preparation? It’s to examine the experiences of those who’ve explored similar ventures. Those experiences can be our templates when we explore similar ventures.

And it’s just such a template that Yaakov is shown he ventures to far away Charan, a place he hadn’t ever been.

And that template? It’s that of Yaakov’s grandfather, Avraham, who lived in Charan for many years.[1]

That template displays itself in the déjà vus of Avraham’s initial patriarchal trip – his journey from Charan to Eretz Yisrael – that repeatedly display themselves in our parsha’s description of Yaakov’s trip from Eretz Yisrael to Charan.

We see those déjà vus in how the language of Avrohom’s departure from Charan replicates itself in the language of departure to Charan replicates.

Yaakov was told to depart to Charan “for your needs.”[2] This evokes how Avraham was told to depart from Charan “for your needs.”[3]

Yaakov was told that his departure would make him a “blessing unto all the nations of the world.” [4] This evokes how Avraham was promised that departing from Charan would make him a “blessing unto all the nations of the world.”[5]

We also see those déjà vus in the dream that informed Yaakov’s departure from Charan:

This dream’s focal point is the “ladder” that “reaches up to the heavens…. upon which Hashem’s angels ascend and descend.”[6]

That ladder evokes Avraham who - and this isn’t well-known - also interacted with a ladder.

That was the ladder that ascended the Tower of Babylon described in early Bereishis: “And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world. Hashem came down …and scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city..”[7]

This tower was probably one of the ziggurat towers that Babylonians consecrated as idols. [8]

This consecration occurred because pagans believed that people could physically climb up to gods that “lived” up in heaven.

It also occurred because of Babylonian topography. That topography included mighty rivers that sometimes overflowed their banks. And vast expanses of flatlands. Ziggurat towers provided lifesaving high-ground refuges for when these flatlands were inundated by overflowing rivers. And such life-saving characteristics were another reason as to why Babylonians viewed these towers as “gods.”[9]

These towers - and their ladders - evoke Avraham because the Midrash notes that Avraham expended effort repudiating such ziggurat idolatry: “Avraham mocked the tower builders.” [10]

What motivated the Midrashic assumption? Probably the fact that the Torah recounts Avraham’s rise to greatness right after it recounts the collapse of the Tower of Babylon project – thereby suggesting that Avraham rose by repudiating that tower. This assumption is reinforced by the fact that Avraham lived in the area in which the tower was built. And its further reinforced by the tradition that Avraham’s rise was based on his repudiation of idolatry.[11]

The ladder of Yaakov’s dream, then, recalls Babylonian ziggurat ladders.

And it’s a déjà vu - that like the linguistic déjà vus that just we referenced - establishes Avraham as a template for Yaakov. A template for repudiating Babylonian idolatry. And a template for so much else.

This recounting of Yaakov’s ladders talks to us about our ladders.

It remind us that we, like Yaakov, will encounter many ladders.

Some will lead to towers of Babylon, disappointment and heartache. Others will lead to spiritually, healthy marriages and forward-thinking children.

We’ll have to make sure, then, to choose the right ladder.

And that will be hard!

And that’s because those choosing life ladders – those starting new ventures – are usually still standing at those ladders’ bases. And when we stand at a base, we can’t usually see an apex.

How, then, to see an apex when we still stand at a base?

By doing what Yaakov did. By examining our predecessors’ ladders. By searching to find ladders that were climbed by people whose lives are worth replicating.

People whose lives were suffused with the spiritual. Whose marriages were healthy. And whose children were forward-thinking.

Find those people’s ladders. And climb towards those people’s destinations.

Yes, our ladders can take us where we want to go.

We should just know where they lead before we climb them.

[1] Bereishis 11:31

[2] Bereishis 27:43

[3] Bereishis 28:14

[4] Bereishis 12:3

[5] Rav Yehuda Elitzur and others

[6] Bereishis 28:12

[7] Bereishis 11:3-8

[8]Cassuto, Bereishis 11:1-9 “The Simpe Reding of the Generation of Dispersion,” Rav Yehuda Elitzur, Jerusalem 1981.

[9] See Pirkei de-Rebbi Eliezer 24

[10] See Yalkut Shimoni 47:58

[11] Bereishis Rabba 38:13, Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer 26

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