Perashat Vayesse 5778
Perashat Vayesse 5778Friday, November 24, 2017
In this week's perasha, Ya'akob travels to a place that, according to tradition, is Mount Moriah. While sleeping, he has a prophetic dream. The Pasuk Beresheet 28:12 describes the dream as follows. "And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending it."
What's the meaning of the angels climbing up and down, and what is the message for subsequent generations? Many commentators have provided insight. However, most deal with the sod or esoteric aspect of this pasuk or what the dream is hinting about the future of Am Yisrael in exile. I would like to suggest a different approach.
The Talmud in Kiddushin 40a teaches that a person should always perceive himself as though he were half-guilty and half-meritorious. As if measured by a scale, acts of missvot are on one side and transgressions on the other. In balancing one's deeds, the scale will tilt for merit or liability accordingly. The Gemara points to the pasuk in Ecclesiastes 9:18 that states, "...but one sin destroys much good," which means that one transgression squanders the effects of commendable actions.
How are we to understand this Gemara when it says that one must view oneself as balanced by good and bad deeds?
In his Discourse on Free Will, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes that the parameters of free will differ for each person. It varies according to one's background, education and other factors, constantly altered with life's experiences. When one opts for truth or doing the right thing over an opposing desire, only then is one truly expressing free will. If all choices are equal (balanced) then that will allow the person himself to determine the outcome.
Rabbi Dessler uses the analogy of a battlefield to better understand the concept of free will. The point at which the battle takes place is the point of free will. To the rear of the battlefront is secured territory, the area where a person feels no temptation to do other than what he perceives as right. What lies beyond the battlefield are all those areas in which a person does not yet have the ability to choose.
The front line shifts constantly. With every victory achieved by making the right decision, one advances, and with every defeat one retreats. Pharaoh in Sefer Shemot provides the paradigm for this. By hardening his heart time after time by not freeing Am Yisrael, he ends up losing his ability to exercise his free will.
Our sages have explained this concept so well. There must always be a balance between temptation and the ability to conquer the temptation for free will to exist. If one does a missvah, his rung on the ladder of free will goes up, and the next step will be a bit more difficult. On the other hand, his determination will also be stronger to counterbalance the challenges ahead.
This is the meaning of Ya'akob's dream when he saw "a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven". A ladder signifies the opportunity to raise one's level of free will by doing what is right and refrain from doing what is wrong. By taking a step down on the ladder of Torah values, the outcome is the opposite.
We can all cause angels and heavenly spirits to ascend or descend. Let's aspire to bring abundance to the world and to our life accordingly.
Rabbi Mimoun Miller
May 28 2020
Sivan 5 5780