Dreams are a fascinating topic that have constantly been studied and analyzed by doctors, philosophers, and theologians. One predominant view is from world-renowned neurologist Sigmund Freud, who maintained that dreams were comprised of one’s inner wishes and desires that are repressed and emerge in thought during one’s sleep.
Another view is that dreams are simply thoughts about experiences one encountered during the day, or fears and anxiousness about something that will take place the next day. The Talmud states in Berachot BT 57B that dreams are 1/60th prophecy, which means that there is a taste of prophecy associated with every dream. In fact, dreams in the Torah are indeed prophetic or are direct messages imparted by G-d.
Parshat Vayetzey begins with the famous dream of Jacob’s Ladder, the original stairway to heaven. It is the first of many dreams we will read about in the weeks to come, followed by Joseph’s two dreams, the dreams of the butler and the baker and the two dreams of Pharaoh. Each of these dreams is filled with symbolism and a foreshadowing of what is meant to occur. What about Jacob’s dream, what are the messages therein?
וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃ וְהִנֵּ֨ה יְוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵאלֹהֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃ וְהָיָ֤ה זַרְעֲךָ֙ כַּעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ֛ יָ֥מָּה וָקֵ֖דְמָה וְצָפֹ֣נָה וָנֶ֑גְבָּה וְנִבְרְכ֥וּ בְךָ֛ כׇּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָ֖ה וּבְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃ וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֙יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וַהֲשִׁ֣בֹתִ֔יךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֚י לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱזׇבְךָ֔ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ׃ וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַעֲקֹב֮ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהֹוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי׃
He had a dream; a stairway; others “ladder.” was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and messengers of God were going up and down on it. And standing beside him was G-d, who said, I am the God of your father Abraham’s [house] and the God of Isaac’s [house]: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely G-d is present in this place, and I did not know it!”
This first message pertains to the angels first ascending, and only afterwards descending. This is counterintuitive, as we would think that angels from heaven first need to come down, and then they can return up to heaven. The father of all biblical commentators, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki of France (1040 –1105), explains that in reality, there was two separate groups of angels. Angels are location specific and the angels of Israel only function on the holy soil of Israel. There are also angels that serve abroad in the diaspora. Therefore, as Jacob was departing from Israel, first the angels from Israel ascended to heaven, and only then did the angels of the diaspora descend.
The Ramban, Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman of Spain (1194-1270), explains differently that the angels represent and escort the prayers and good deeds expressed by man. It is these acts of kindness, prayer and Torah goodness that ascend to heaven, and in return, angels descend and bring forth the divine reward and direction for mankind.
Finally, commentators explain that as Jacob journeyed forward away from the house of his youth to fulfill his potential, he was comforted by seeing in his dream that G-d was with with him wherever he goes, and there is holiness to be experienced in all of his travels.
When studying the dreams in the Torah, may it inspire you to consider your own dreams. Not only our dreams when we are asleep at night, but our dreams and aspirations in life generally. When we are younger, we are idealistic and filled with dreams and strategies for greatness, When life gets in the way, we begin to cope and adjust; and often our daytime dreams begin to fade like our nighttime ones.
The late great Rav Yosef Kahaneman of Ponovich was noted to have said that he dreams with his eyes open. All of us have unfulfilled dreams waiting to be accomplished. With the help of G-d and His angels, together with our prayers and good deeds we can merit greatness through the fulfillment of our national dreams soon in our days – as it says in Psalms 126 Song of Ascents When G-d returns to Zion, we will be like dreamers.
Community Scholar in Residence