Stairway To Heaven

Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:3[2])

This week’s Torah portion begins with one of the most mysterious and little-understood events recorded in the Torah. When Jacob spent the night in what he later calls Beit-El, he had a curious dream charged with spiritual import:

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:11–12)

In Jacob’s dream, he saw a ladder stretching from heaven to earth, and angels were ascending and descending on it. Although he was puzzled by this imagery, Jacob realized that it held spiritual significance and determined that he had come to a place of holiness:

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16–17)

Because of what he had seen in his dream, Jacob called the place Beth-El or the “House of God.” He declared that it was not only the House of God but also some sort of portal between heaven and earth where angels could come and go from one realm to the other. From this, we can see the importance of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. While it stood, the “House of God” functioned as the “gate of heaven” connecting heaven and earth.

When Yeshua was calling Nathanael to follow him as one of his disciples, Yeshua told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Where did Yeshua get this imagery of the heavens opening and “the angels of God ascending and descending”? None other than our current Torah portion. But how is he able to make this bold claim that angels will ascend and descend upon him? Although the connection is difficult to make in English, it is more apparent when we read it in Hebrew.

It seems obvious in the English what the angels are moving upon. It says the angels “were ascending and descending on it,” meaning the ladder. In the original Hebrew, however, non-gender pronouns such as “it” don’t exist. Like Spanish and most other languages, everything has a gender. So when the Torah says the angels went up and down “on it,” we can just as easily read it as “on him.” It is the same pronoun (bo) in Hebrew. Were the angels ascending and descending on it or him? A Jewish answer to that question is “on him.” This is why Yeshua was able to allude back to this Torah portion to refer to himself as the one on whom the angels will ascend and descend. He is the stairway, or the gateway, between Heaven (God) and earth (man).

The Midrash relates a teaching by Rabbi Aha in which he expounds on this passage, saying that God told Jacob, “This gate will be opened for many righteous men like yourself” (B’reisheet Rabbah 69:7). He predicted a time would come in which many would pass through the gate and make the spiritual journey from earth to Heaven.

Yeshua taught, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). Through Yeshua, the gate to God has been opened to the masses. A stairway to Heaven has been opened to all who will heed his call. Yeshua also takes our prayers straight to the Father and intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:34). Through our attachment to him, we can ascend with the angels to the presence of the Almighty and descend back down to earth, bringing with us a portion of the Divine in order to illuminate this dark world. When Yeshua walked this earth, his disciples were able to see this angelic exchange. May we take advantage of this opportunity and catch a glimpse of the angels ascending and descending in our day as well.