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When Yaakov Avinu has the dream of the malachim climbing the ladder,

  1. Why do malachim need a ladder? Can't they fly or have some other form of supernatural transportation?
  2. I thought that the reason that we daven amida with our feet together is to emulate malachim, who only have 1 "foot", so how can they climb a ladder like that?

I realise that this was a dream and there is likely to be some sort of symbolic message in this, so I'm not necessarily looking for a literal answer

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  • I heard a beautiful pshat on this from Rabbi Farhi quoting Rabbi Moshe Weinberger - will revert shortly.
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:18
  • Is the language climbing actually used?
    – אילפא
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 15:02
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    Similarly, the angels don't "need" a ladder. The vision of the ladder is the means through which angels ascend and/or descend between material and spiritual existence. The ladder is an allegory for the two general general categories of Wisdom, meaning "G-dly Wisdom" and "Natural Wisdom" AKA "Natural Sciences". The ladders are usually portrayed as having either 5 or 7 rungs which relate to the different areas of wisdom (ie. metallurgy, chemistry, mathematics etc. and Sophrut, Halacha, Aggada, etc.) within those two categories. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 16:48
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    It was a dream by a human. Why wouldn't the figures in it follow a human's understanding? Angels showed up at Avraham's tent and "ate" food that they didn't need.
    – rosends
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 17:48
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    They can hop from rung to rung
    – user6591
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 19:07

1 Answer 1

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As far as the first question:

Why do malachim need a ladder? Can't they fly or have some other form of supernatural transportation?

I heard from Rabbi Shlomo Farhi quoting Rabbi Moshe Weinberger the following:

The Gemara in Chagigah 13b writes:

כָּתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר: ״שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם לְאֶחָד״, וְכָתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר: ״וְאַרְבָּעָה פָנִים לְאֶחָת וְאַרְבַּע כְּנָפַיִם לְאַחַת לָהֶם״? לָא קַשְׁיָא: כָּאן בִּזְמַן שֶׁבֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ קַיָּים, כָּאן בִּזְמַן שֶׁאֵין בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ קַיָּים. כִּבְיָכוֹל, שֶׁנִּתְמַעֲטוּ כַּנְפֵי הַחַיּוֹת.

One verse states: “Each one had six wings; with two it covered its face and with two it covered its feet, and with two it flew” (Isaiah 6:2), and another verse states: “And every one had four faces, and every one of them had four wings” (Ezekiel 1:6). The Gemara answers: This is not difficult, as here, when the verse states they each had six wings, it is referring to the time when the Temple is standing, while there, where four wings are described, it is referring to the time when the Temple is not standing, for it is as if the number of the wings of the animals were diminished so that they now have only four.

In other words, the melachim who only had four wings were present in the time of exile, a time of churban, post the Beis Hamikdash (see Rashi).

The Gemara continues:

הֵי מִינַּיְיהוּ אִימַּעוּט? אָמַר רַב חֲנַנְאֵל אָמַר רַב: אוֹתָן שֶׁאוֹמְרוֹת שִׁירָה בָּהֶן.

Which of the wings were diminished? Rav Chananel said that Rav said: Those with which they recite song.

The mefarshim ask which wings do they use to recite their song? And they answer it's the ones they fly with.

Explained Rav Farhi, even angels, spiritual beings, when they experience churban they lose the ability to fly.

Applying this to the case of Yaakov. Yaakov was in the middle of immense trauma. He was fleeing to the unknown, from his twin who was hell-bent on murdering him. This trauma, this vulnerability as his whole world was being knocked down impacted on the angels who lost the ability to fly.

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    Just as a hosafa to this vort he added we can gain strength from the fact that whilst churban clips wings, it doesn't have to remain that way. Rabbi Weinberger quotes Rav Chaim Vital that there is one way that angels regain their wings. Pirkei Avos tell us to be קל כנשר - "Light as an eagle". Upon reflection, an eagle is not exactly light! It's one of the heaviest birds! Rather it means that its wings are so strong that despite its immense weight it can fly to the highest heights. The pasuk in Yeshaya 40:31 says, וְקוֹיֵ֤ ה' יַחֲלִ֣יפוּ כֹ֔חַ יַעֲל֥וּ אֵ֖בֶר כַּנְּשָׁרִ֑ים...
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 17:20
  • "But they who trust in G-D shall renew their strength". They exchange a strength that is depleted for renewed vigour, a replenished strength. יַעֲל֥וּ אֵ֖בֶר כַּנְּשָׁרִ֑ים - "As eagles grow new wings" - Says Rav Vital when a person struggling is able to hone in on some level of שמח בחלקו - a degree of happiness with their lot, it breathes some life back into their perspective, that pain can then be channeled to grow back our "wings". So with Yaakov when he is at his lowest low, the angels cannot fly, but when he regains his strength we are told (Bereishis 32:4) "וישלח יעקב מלאכים"
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 17:29
  • He is able to send them away at his behest.
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 17:30
  • Dov, This question is primarily about the ladder and its relationship with angels. Do they need a ladder and how do they ascend and descend on it? Your answer doesn't address the subject of the ladder at all. It is only about the different ways that angel anatomy is portrayed, meaning how many wings they possess. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 18:20
  • @YaacovDeane I was addressing the first part of the question - Why do malachim need a ladder? Can't they fly
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 18:28

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