Word for the Week ... Vayeitzei
Rabbi Simche Sherer
So what's the best way to get to heaven? Walk across a busy highway? Perform some amazing act of faith? Save a thousand lives? A pretty good answer may be found in this week's Parshah, Vayeitzei.
We read the story of Yaakov's dream and the famous ladder with its feet on the ground and head in the heavens. ”And behold the angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.”
One rather simplistic question comes to mind. Do angels really need a ladder?
Everyone knows angels have wings, not feet. So, if you have wings, why would you
need a ladder?
There is a beautiful message here.
In climbing heavenward, one does not necessarily need wings. Dispense with the dramatic. Forget about fancy leaps and bounds. There is a ladder, a spiritual route clearly mapped out for us; a route that needs to be traversed step-by-step, one rung at a time. The pathway to Heaven is gradual, methodical and eminently manageable.
Many people are discouraged from even beginning a spiritual journey because they think it needs that huge leap of faith. They cannot see themselves reaching a degree of religious commitment which seems to them otherworldly. And yet, with the gradual step-by-step approach, one finds that the journey can be embarked upon and that the destination aspired to, is actually not far away in some vortex.
Years ago, at the King's County Savings Bank in Brooklyn, there was the Chinese proverb engraved over the large portals at the entrance. ”A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step”. That is not only Chinese wisdom; we Jews agree. And it is not limited to starting a savings plan. It is a simple yet powerful idea that it need not be ”all or nothing.”
What do you think is a rabbi's fantasy? A guy walking into his office and saying, ”Rabbi, I want to become 'frum' (fully observant), now tell me what I must do?" Is that what I lie awake dreaming of? And if it did happen, do you think the Rabbi would throw the book at him and insist he did every single mitzvah from that moment on? Never! Why not? Because a commitment like that is usually here today and gone tomorrow. Like the popular saying goes, ”Easy come, easy go.” I haven't had such wonderful experiences with the ”instant Jew” types. The correct and most successful method of achieving our Jewish objectives is the slow and steady approach. Gradual, yet consistent. As soon as one has become comfortable with one mitzvah, it is time to start on the next, and so on and so forth. Then, through constant growth, slowly but surely we become more knowledgeable, committed, fulfilled and happy in our faith.
A rabbi once asked his pupils the following question: ”If two people are on a ladder, one at the top and one on the bottom, who is higher?” The class thought it was a pretty dumb question -- until the wise teacher explained that they were not really capable of judging who was higher or lower until they first ascertained in which direction each was headed.
If the fellow on top was going down, but the guy on the bottom was going up, then conceptually, the one on the bottom was actually higher.
It doesn't really matter what your starting point is or where you are at on
the ladder of religious life. As long as you are moving in the right direction,
as long as you are going up, you will, please G-d, succeed in climbing the
Wishing you a safe and successful journey.