In ParshaH Vayetze, our father Yaakov is fleeing from his brother Esau. As he prepares to leave Eretz Yisrael for Haran, he goes to sleep and dreams of angels of Hashem going up and down a great ladder that extends to the heaven (Beresheet 28:12).
Many of the commentators note that the description of the angels is unusual. We normally think of angels as being in the heavens and then descending to earth. These angels seem to be operating in reverse order.
The great commentator Rashi says that there are actually two sets of angels. The first set of angels are the angels who are to accompany Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael. As Yaakov is leaving the land, those angels have finished their task and ascend to heaven.
Yaakov is then met by the angels of chutz la’aretz (the lands outside of Eretz Yisrael), who climb down the ladder to accompany Yaakov into exile. (When Yaakov returns many years later to Eretz Yisrael, he is met again by the angels of Eretz Yisrael to accompany him home.)
As part of his dream, Yaakov received a prophetic message from Hashem, promising Yaakov and his descendants ownership of Eretz Yisrael (verse 14). This is another reminder that all of Eretz Yisrael belongs to Klal Yisrael.
When he awakens, Yaakov now recognizes the holiness of the place upon which he has been sleeping (verses 16-17). He makes what on the surface seems to be a very strange oath (verses 20-21). He swears to Hashem that if He protects him on his journey, gives him food and clothes, and then brings him back to his father’s home in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem shall be His God.
If we didn’t know better, we might think that Yaakov was making His faith in Hashem conditional. HaRav Yissochor Teichtel, who perished in the Shoah shortly after writing his monumental work, Em haBanim Smecha, explains in his introduction that Yaakov already knew what the Rabbis of the Talmud would later teach (in Tractate Ketubot 110b). “One who lives in Eretz Yisrael, it is like he has a God. One who lives outside of Eretz Yisrael, it is like he has no God.”
Thus, Yaakov was simply recognizing the fact that his relationship with Hashem outside of Eretz Yisrael would be incomplete. In order for it to be restored, Yaakov would have to safely return to Eretz Yisrael where Hashem would again fully be his God. Even as he prepared for exile, Yaakov proclaimed his desire to re-ascend to Eretz Yisrael and return home.
We learn that our Promised Land of Eretz Yisrael is totally unique. It is a gift from Hashem that is worthy of its own angels. It is only in Eretz Yisrael that our relationship with Hashem is complete. It is only in Eretz Yisrael that we fully see Hashem’s “hand” in history and in our lives, and it is only in Eretz Yisrael that we can fully observe His commandments. Though we can and must serve Hashem even in exile, it is only in the land that He has given us that we fully recognize and serve Him as our God.
It is time for us to climb the ladder and embrace our connection to Eretz Yisrael — the Land Hashem has given us.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, a past executive committee member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and the host of www.rabbijablon.com .