Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Climbing the Rungs of Ya'acov's Ladder

Sunset from Bat Ayin
Click here to read Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Vayetze: "Ya'acov's Toil to Deserve his Wives"

The metaphor of Ya’acov’s ladder lends itself to profound meditation. The ladder symbolizes the connection linking earth to heaven, matter below to spirit Above, and us to G-d. Ya’acov’s ladder teaches us about how our relationship with Hashem in truth is a relationship with our own inner core. Hashem is the underlying structure of all of existence, including our own existence. Alienation from G‑d means alienation from the depths of the self. A relationship with Hashem means a relationship with our own inner core, with the reality of our reality. 

Parasha Meditation Vayetze
Bereishit 28:10-32:3

During his dream of the ladder, Ya’acov was looking into himself. We learn this from the word “bo” “...Behold, angels of G-d are ascending and descending ‘bo’ – on/in it/him.” The preposition ‘bo’ can mean either ‘on it’, ‘in it’ or ‘in him’. 
מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה סח פסקה יב
רבי חייא ורבי ינאי חד אמר עולים ויורדין בסולם וחד אמר עולים ויורדים ביעקב
Rabbi Chia and Rabbi Yanai, the former said they ascend and descend on the ladder, the latter said that they ascend and descend in Ya’acov.[1]

שפת אמת ספר בראשית - פרשת ויצא - שנת [תרמ”ז]
כי באמת האדם עצמו הוא הסולם ויש בו פנימיות הנשמה חלק אלוה ממעל רמז לבחי’ וה’ נצב עליו כנ”ל
In truth, the person himself is the ladder, and within him is the inner Neshama a part of G-d from Above, this hints to the aspect “G-d was standing upon him”[2].

Various levels of consciousness exist between us and our Divine self. Each rung represents a gradual ascent whereby we can earn wisdom and perfection one step at a time. As the ladder has no moving parts, it symbolizes ascent by way of our own personal effort. The Ladder reminds us that reaching the highest realms of consciousness is not a short, swift journey. However, we must also keep in mind that no journey is without its rests and pauses. Therefore, whenever we require a respite during our spiritual ascent, the rungs of the ladder provide us with the support and strength we need until we are ready to take our next step upward.
Sit comfortably in your chair, close your eyes and take deep breaths several times and let go of anything you are may be holding on to. Breathe in Hashem’s life-giving energy, breath out, tensions, negativity and worry. Sit comfortable in your chair, close your eyes and take deep breaths several times. Breathe deeply and feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of the body. Relax, get yourself in a meditative mode, and imagine that you are Yaakov, “asleep, but your heart is awake”. See in your mind’s eye the ladder. Try to visualize its shape and color. Is it a small indoor ladder, or a larger gardening ladder? Is it made from wood, metal or another material? What is its color? Perhaps it has more than one color? How many rungs does it have? Now imagine yourself standing at the bottom of this ladder. Which difficulties and fears make it hard for you to take the first step to ascend the ladder? Perhaps it is negative habits, addictions, lashon hara, mitzvoth that are difficult for you. Try to identify these blocks and then try to connect with the light of Hashem which always comes down from Above. Try to bring Hashem’s light into your all of your negative actions in order to melt them away. Then take the first step to the bottom of the ladder. This is the level ofארץ  – Earth/ Malchut. You will be ascending the ladder from below on earth towards heaven above. Imagine saying the word “Amen” twice in your mind’s eye as you leave each rung of the ladder to climb the next rung of the ladder.

As you now stand on the bottom of the ladder, feel yourself standing firmly, get in touch with the thing on earth which supports you, your daily routines, the people who are close to you, your support system, get in touch with all the light of Hashem that flows through all the channels of your support system into you. Now look at up at the first rung. What blocks you from taking your first step? Which negative emotions are you struggling with, anger, worry, fears and doubts? Try to bring Hashem’s light into all your negative emotions and melt them away. See if you feel like taking another step onto the first rung of the ladder, as you say “Amen” in your mind’s eye. You now imagine reaching the first rung.

1.  וילוןVilon/Veil/Yesod
Imagine that you are now entering the veil of the Heavens, where the Divine light is indwelling in all physical and psychological substance. Remain on the first rung as you imagine Hashem’s light within you. Get in touch with the dream of your life, the things you always wanted to accomplish, but so far didn’t reach. Visualize fulfilling your dream. When you are ready, recite the word “Amen” twice in your minds eye and take some deep relaxing breaths as you ascend the next rung of the ladder to the second rung.

2. רקיעRakia/Expanse/Hod
Imagine the bright light of the sun warming you. Our body is continually filled with Hashem’s light and love even when we don’t see it or feel it, we know that we are filled with Hashem’s light. From your place on the ladder, send Hashem’s light and love to someone you love very much, or someone you know really need it. Now imagine the soft light of the moon, stars and constellations on a dark blue sky. Enjoy basking in the soft glow with the knowledge that Hashem guides all your ways through His faithful servants. Now visualize the letters of the word “Amen” and repeat it while you breath calmly and step up to the third rung. 

3.שחקים  – Shachakim/Clouds/Netzach
You are walking in a thick white mist; your feet tread lightly upon the flimsy ground, lifted, by the wonder and awe in your heart. You are chasing something, some mysterious beauty which hides behind the endless appearances of its perfection. There is no separation between one moment and the next, one victory and the next that you fathom in your mind’s eye. Each success you have accomplished blends into a greater success, as you imagine all the obstacles in your life that you succeeded to overcome. They are all so different, yet they are one and the same. Visualize the manna flowing down to you and taste its heavenly taste. Now imagine saying “Amen” twice and take some deep breaths preparing yourself to ascent to the fourth rung.

4. זבולZevul/ Habitation/ Tiferet
Imagine a beautiful garden and in its center the outline of the house you can call “home.” Imagine your true home, that you realize has always been the home of your wandering soul. Feel assured that you are not lost. Even as the vision fades from the eye of your mind and the dark clouds of your ordinary consciousness obscure its beautiful garden, you are ascertained that there is a place where you belong, a place in complete harmony with the essence of who you are, and your name. Your home is connected to the heavenly Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel Ma’ala). Visualize  the Temple, and its altar upon which Michael the arch-angel and great prince stands and offers his offering. Take another few deep breath, recite “amen” twice in your mind, as you prepare yourself to ascent to the fifth rung.

5. מעוןMaon/ Dwelling place/Gevurah
In this realm you need to deal with your shadow side, the part of yourself repressed to the back by un-rectified knots. It could be knots of deep seeded jealousy, hatred, desire to injure others and yourself in order to survive, it could be your darkest fear and your deepest self-hatred. Imagine your gevurah, cracking each of these un-rectified nuts, see them melt away while you  bring Hashem’s light into each of them. Imagine the pitch dark night, and hearing the ministering angels singing songs of praises to Hashem. You can now rest at peace in Ma’on, in your personal refuge in the midst of spiritual ware-fare. No matter what kinds of adversities you may be facing, you have found a place of peace in a land at war. Find this Heaven in your heart. This secret place in your heart is beyond suffering. You may judge all things according to their nature and actions, and annihilate all things by means of love for their opposite, yet the emptiness of this sanctuary of peace is exempt. “Amen, Amen” you recite as you take some deep breaths and visualize entering the sixth rung.

6. מכוןMachon/Established Place/Chesed
Go through the doors of fire, and the chambers of vapor, storm, whirlwind and hail until you reach absolute Chesed.
ספר תהילים פרק פט (ג) כִּי אָמַרְתִּי עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה שָׁמַיִם תָּכִן אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָהֶם:
“For I have said, the world is built by Chesed – love, you establish your faithfulness in the very heavens.”[3] 
Get in touch with your absolute chesed, which is changeless and constant in its perfection. It is the most fundamental of all, a template and foundation for all which follows; the first certainty of God’s creation. Feel your love emanating from the spring of His eternal love and allow it to fill your heart and from their your entire being as you keep breathing slow loving breaths, feel how much you love yourself  and everyone else in your world, “Amen, Amen” continue your loving breaths as you imagine entering the seventh and final rung.

7.ערבות  – Aravot/Desert/Empty Expanse/ Keter/Chachmah/Binah
You are now floating into the holy heaven of Aravot, filled with the treasures of life and the treasures of peace and the treasures of blessing, and the souls of the righteous and the spirits and souls which are about to be created. Imagine the glittering dew in the sun with which the Holy One, blessed be He, is about to review the dead. There also are celestials and seraphs and holy beings and ministering angels and the throne of glory, and the King, the Living God, high and lifted up, sitting over them among the clouds, and darkness and cloud and thick darkness surround Him. There is again a firmament above the heads of the living creatures “shining like the glitter of the purest crystal.”[4] Now allow your mind to empty as you get in touch with that emptiness which is, paradoxically, most full. It is the emptiness of particular forms, in which all forms find their source. Nothing and all things are contained herein.

ספר תהילים פרק סח) ה) שִׁירוּ לֵאלֹהִים זַמְּרוּ שְׁמוֹ סֹלּוּ לָרֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת בְּיָהּ שְׁמוֹ וְעִלְזוּ לְפָנָיו:
“Sing to G-d, sing praises to His name, extol Him who rides upon the aravot – highest heaven – in Y-a His name, and rejoice before him.”[5]
The word “Aravot” which is often translated as “highest heaven” also means mixture, since this heaven is a mixture of fire and water. In this realm feel your deepest gratitude for all the goodness in your life, which arouses your deepest desire to praise Hashem in the very highest way. Know in your heart of hearts that Hashem stands beside you. Hear in your inner hearing Him say to you:

בראשית פרק יב (טו) וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ
 “I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go. I will return you to this earth. For I will not leave you...”[6]
“Amen Amen!” Slowly begin to go down each of the rungs of the laadder from the highest heaven downwards. From the 7th and highest heaven Aravot, to the 6th realm of Machon, descending into the 5th level of Ma’on, until you come to the 4th rung of Zevul, plunging down to the 3rd realm of Shachakim, descending down to the second level of Rakia, followed by the first rung of Vilon until you finally return from your heavenly journey and reach the Earth. You are back on the ground, take some soft steps with your feet on the floor and tap your hands on the table before you release your arms and legs, then open your eyes.

The Symbolism and Imagery of Ladders
Going up the ladder is the spiritual stairway through which approach our Divine self, and reach higher realms of consciousness in our quest for spiritual perfection.

The two vertical uprights of the ladder symbolize that our upward ascent, from the bottom-most rung to the upper-most rung, is a journey through the realm of duality. Before we can step up to the next higher rung on the ladder we must first experience and master the lessons of duality which exist at our current level of elevation. As we steadfastly ascend the rungs of the ladder we slowly elevate ourselves, higher and higher, above the lower plane of the superficial and mundane. Upon reaching the higher rungs of the ladder, we begin to breathe in the rarefied air of Higher Consciousness. It is at these higher levels of consciousness that the mysteries of Eternity slowly begin to unveil their secrets to us.

The Divine unified realm is beyond all frustrations, confusions and restraints of the material world. Only tzadikim reach the top-most rung of the ladder – the realm of highest consciousness. Reaching this level through personal desire and effort enables the tzadik to transcend duality and achieve entrance into the Infinite Domain of Enlightenment and Unity. May we learn to access the light of our Neshama as we gradually climb Ya’acov’s ladder one rung at a time! May the inner light of each of us shine forth and uplift our personal surroundings this month, from the inside out!

[1] Bereishit Rabah, Parasha 68, Piska 12
[2] Sefat Emet, Bereishit, Vayetze 5647
[3] Tehillim 89:3
[4] Babylonian Talmud, Chagiga 12b, Yechezkiel 1:22
[5] Ibid. 68:5
[6] Bereishit 12:15


  1. so beautiful and serene a vision!

  2. How wonderful!

  3. What a beautifull and soothning meditation, thank You.