Our Parasha covers twenty years in the life of Ya’aqob Abinu. These twenty years, in a sense, passed between two dreams. The first dream, when Ya’aqob left the land of Abraham and Ytsjaq. Ya’aqob values and his edcuation are represented in the dream he had before leaving Erets Israel. In this dream, Ya’aqob saw angels. He visualized the change of guard. The angels who protected him in Israel are now leaving, and the angels who will protect him outside Israel are now descending. The symbolism of this dream could not be more relevant for us: the Jewish people need different protection in each of these two scenarios. We face two different challenges: In Israel, we fight against an enemy who wants to destroy us physically, and outside Israel, we fight against assimilation.
Rabbi Shelomo Ibn Gabirol (1022-1051) interpreted the dream of Ya’aqob in a different way. The angels are Talmide Hakhamim, Tora scholars like Ya’aqob, who first ascend to a very high spiritual level to study the Tora, but do not stay there. They return to the material terrain, bringing with them what they have learned. Connecting heavens with the earth. Making the Tora accessible to the rest of the people.
Beyond the different interpretations of this dream, the important thing is that Ya’aqob dreamed of angels. And with a ladder (not less important!) that reminded him that we are here, in this world, to grow and to rise to the divine. Dreams do not come from a vacuum. Dreams do not lie. Ya’aqob’s dream is deeply spiritual. We are what we dream. And we dream what we are.
The content of our dreams reflects our lives. Passions, desires, fears we experience in our daily routine. If you dream that you are flying, you are probably aspiring to move forward in your life, have a better job, etc. but you feel that you are chained, trapped. If you dream that you are driving a vehicle and the brakes do not work, you are probably feeling that you are not in control of your life. When you dream that you are in public without clothes, it is probably a reflection of the fear that people will discover something embarrassing about you that you want to hide. Dreams say a lot about us. Ya’aqob Abinu saw angels in his dream because that was his reality. He lived among them: his parents, his grandfather Abraham, Shem and Eber.
Ya’aqob escapes from the land of his parents for fear that his brother Esav would kill him. He fled to the house of his uncle Laban. There he had to work very hard. Laban, for years, abused Ya’aqob. Ya’aqob says to Laban Gen. 31: 38-40 these twenty years I have been with you. Your sheep and your goats have not get killed, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. I never brought you an animal torn apart by beasts. I assumed the loss, that you demanded of my hand. The same if an animal was stolen by day or night. [I worked without resting], during the day I was consumed by the heat and during the night by the frost, and thus sleep fled from my eyes.
At the end of those twenty years, Ya’aqob dreams again. But this time he has a very different dream. In this second dream there are no angels climbing a ladder but animals mating, climbing one on top of the other. “The males went up to the flocks, producing animals with stripes or spots ….” (Gen. 31: 10-11). Animals represent material goods. This second dream is not a “spiritual” dream. It has to do exclusively with making money. An angel speaks to Ya’aqob, but only to teach him to be smarter than the shrewd Laban. This is a materialistic dream, unfitting for Ya’aqob.
In that same dream, HaShem gives a direct command to Ya’aqob, and He says (31; 11) “ki raiti et asher laban ose imaj. “For I have seen what Laban has done to you.” It is as if HaShem says to Ya’aqob: I see what twenty years of labor for Laban have made of you. You have changed. I can see it in your dreams. Twenty years ago you were a spiritual man. You dreamed of angels and a ladder. Now, your dreams have become horizontal. The angels were replaced by goats, and the ladder by stables. These dreams are fitting of Laban, not of Ya’aqob!
Ya’aqob then receives a direct order from HaShem. It’s time to go home (31:11): “Now get out of this land and return to your homeland.” You have to return. It is necessary so you become who you were again, and so your dreams change. You have to go back to see angels and ladders. And you will achieve this by living a life that consists of building a connection between earth and heavens. You have the potential to become one of those angels who ascend to heaven and bring the Tora to earth.
And it worked. In the last verse of this Parsha, Gen. 32: 1, as soon as Ya’aqob arrives in Eretz Yisrael, he again visualizes the angels.
Ya’aqob, and we his descendants, learn this great lesson: we must live a life with enough spirituality to dream with angels and ladders, uniting heaven with earth. If we dream about sheep, it will be time to wake up, improve and change the course of our lives.