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He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Genesis 28: 10-17

What is this ladder? What is this stairway? And how or why are angels ascending and descending?

What is going on here?

  • 2
    are you looking for more than the rashi? "ascending and descending: Ascending first and afterwards descending. The angels who escorted him in the [Holy] Land do not go outside the Land, and they ascended to heaven, and the angels of outside the Holy Land descended to escort him.[From Gen. Rabbah 68:12]" also judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/11918/… – rosends Apr 4 '16 at 22:03
  • @Danno Yeah that's all I could conjure up too. – ezra Apr 5 '16 at 0:44
  • @Danno Shouldn't that go in the answer space? – Shokhet Apr 5 '16 at 20:42
  • @Shokhet the question of "what is going on here" doesn't tell me if the readily available info and the linked question are enough. – rosends Apr 5 '16 at 21:05
  • @Danno Close as unclear? ...the way you have this question, there are three clear questions and one more at the end that either asks a new one (while being vague) or is a plea for help with the previous 3 – Shokhet Apr 5 '16 at 21:07
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Rav Hirsch on Pasuk 12 says that the ladder (the communication medium) was set up from the heaven to the Earth and was placed there deliberately (not by chance) by Hashem to the Earth. However, its primary purpose is not only from Heaven to Earth, but to allow the movement from Earth to heaven. That is the entire goal of (human) life on Earth is to work its way up to a heavenly high goal.

Rav Hirsch also says that he sees the messengers of Hashem going up to obtain the knowledge of the ideal and then come down to compare this ideal with what is actually found on Earth. Thus, it is determined how the angels must behave towards any particular human, based on how close to the ideal he actually comes.

A third point that Rav Hirsch brings is that Hashem is not at the top of the ladder but next to Yaakov. Yaakov sees all the forces of nature (using the term Elokim) having to go up to learn what to do and what the ideal is. However Hashem (Yud Hai Vav Hai) is actually there with him. He actually is there to nourish and develop the seed of kedusha on the Earth. Yaakov does not need to seek hashem in heaven, he finds Hashem next to him. We see just as with Hashem putting the Shechinah in the midst of the camp, that Hashem makes the pure human beings like the Avos the true bearers of the Glory of hashem which wants to have its home primarily on Earth.

  • "behave towards any particular human" The angels? – Aigle Apr 5 '16 at 9:43
  • @Eagel I changed the sentence to make it clearer. – sabbahillel Apr 5 '16 at 12:18
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There is a constant interchange and flux between corporeal and spiritual existence.

The spiritual life seeks to uplift the corporeal and the corporeal provides substance and footing to the spiritual.

Hence the malachim ascend and also descend.

This is also why Moshe is described as a sirsur (inbetween for a sale) at the time of matan torah. Hashem provided the Jews with spirituality but they also surrended their corporeality to Him, so it was a two-way deal and not just a gift from God.

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Bar Kapra offers the following understanding in Midrash Rabbah 68:12:

תָּנֵי בַּר קַפָּרָא לֵית חֲלוֹם שֶׁאֵין לוֹ פִּתְרוֹן, וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם, זֶה הַכֶּבֶשׁ. מֻצָּב אַרְצָה, זֶה מִזְבֵּחַ (שמות כ, כד): מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה לִי, וְרֹאשׁוֹ מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה, אֵלּוּ הַקָּרְבָּנוֹת שֶׁרֵיחָן עוֹלֶה לַשָּׁמַיִם. וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים, אֵלּוּ כֹּהֲנִים גְּדוֹלִים. עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ, שֶׁהֵם עוֹלִים וְיוֹרְדִים בַּכֶּבֶשׁ. (בראשית כח, יג): וְהִנֵּה ה' נִצָּב עָלָיו, (עמוס ט, א): רָאִיתִי אֶת ה' נִצָּב עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ

The ladder is the stairway leading to the top of the altar in the Temple. The angels (lit. messengers) are the the kohanim gedolim. And ascending and descending describe them performing their priestly service in that place.

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