After “stealing” the coveted parental blessing from his brother, Jacob flees from home fearing that Esau will try to kill him. Come nightfall, Jacob lies down on the ground and has his famous dream: a ladder that reaches from him up to heaven. And on the ladder there are angels who come down and touch Jacob, and then ascend to God.
What does the dream mean? For me it speaks to Jacob about the worthy man that he is capable of becoming. But he will have to “climb” the ladder through honestly and courageously confronting the challenges that lay ahead of him, and growing into a worthy patriarch of the Jewish people.
But there is another interpretation. Our sages suggested that this was a “ladder of history,” foretelling the experiences that the Jewish people would have with different peoples. In 1897 Mark Twain put it this way:
“The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away. The Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone. Other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.”
Yes, the Jew saw them all. We saw them rise and fall, and somehow we are still here. What other people endures a Holocaust and goes on to create a new and thriving nation? What other people has experienced the degree of persecution and bigotry, even as we are nurturing a generation of prideful and purposeful Jewish children?
Mark Twain concludes: “All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Each of us holds that “secret” in our thoughts and feelings and actions. Yes, there is a purpose to our existence, and I believe that it has to do with bringing hope and betterment to our world.