From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
And behold the angels of G‑d were ascending and descending on it
So what’s the best way to get to heaven? Walk across a busy highway? Perform some amazing act of faith? Save a thousand lives? Well, a pretty good answer may be found in this week’s parashah.
We read the story of Yaakov’s dream and the famous ladder with its foot on the ground and head in the heavens. “And behold the angels of G‑d were ascending and descending on it.”
Let me ask you what they might call in Yiddish a klotz kashe (a simplistic question). Do angels need a ladder? Everyone knows angels have wings. So, if you have wings, why would you need a ladder?
There is a beautiful message here.
In climbing heavenward, one does not necessarily need wings. Dispense with the dramatic. Forget about fancy leaps and bounds. There is a ladder, a spiritual route clearly mapped out for us; a route that needs to be traversed step-by-step, one rung at a time. The pathway to Heaven is gradual, methodical, and eminently manageable.
Many people are discouraged from even beginning a spiritual journey because they think it needs that huge leap of faith. They cannot see themselves reaching a degree of religious commitment which to them seems otherworldly. And yet, with the gradual step-by-step approach, one finds that the journey can be embarked upon and that the destination aspired to is actually not in outer space.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I would pass a very big building on my way to school every morning. It was the Kings County Savings Bank. All these years later I still remember the Chinese proverb that was engraved over the large portals at the entrance to the bank. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.” Now that’s not only Chinese wisdom; we Jews agree. And it’s not limited to starting a savings plan. It is a simple yet powerful idea that it need not be “all or nothing.”
Rabbis today are encouraging Jewish families to take one small step and then another and then a third so that eventually positive change is achieved.
What do you think a rabbi’s fantasy is? A guy walking into my office and saying, “Rabbi, I want to become frum; now tell me what I must do.”? Is that what I lie awake dreaming of? And if it did happen, do you think I would throw the book at him and insist he do every single mitzvah from that moment on? Never! Why not? Because “easy come, easy go.” Here today, gone tomorrow. The correct and most successful method of achieving our Jewish objectives is the slow and steady approach. Gradual, yet consistent. As soon as one has become comfortable with one mitzvah, it is time to start the next, and so on and so forth. Then, through constant growth, slowly but surely we become knowledgeable, committed, fulfilled, and happy in our faith. I’m afraid I haven’t had such wonderful experiences with the “instant Jew” types.
When my father was in yeshiva, his teacher once asked the following question: “If two people are on a ladder, one at the top and one on the bottom, who is higher?” The class thought it was a pretty dumb question—until the wise teacher explained that they were not really capable of judging who was higher or lower, until they first ascertained in which direction each was headed.
If the fellow on top was going down, but the guy on the bottom was going up, then conceptually, the one on the bottom was actually higher.
And so, my friends, it doesn’t really matter what your starting point is or where you are on the ladder of religious life. As long as you are moving in the right direction, as long as you are going up, you will, please G‑d, succeed in climbing to heavenly heights.
Wishing you a safe and successful journey.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.