The Torah tells us that when Jacob stayed overnight at Beth El, he had a dream. In this dream, he saw a ladder and that G-d was at the top of the ladder.
“And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of G-d were ascending and descending upon it.” (Genesis 28:12)
In this dream, G-d reassured Jacob that, even though he was leaving Israel and fleeing from his brother Esau, that G-d would protect him and bring him back one day.
But why the ladder?
A ladder is a metaphor. No one ever remains standing still on a ladder. He (or she) either uses it to go up or to go down. A ladder, therefore, symbolizes the change that is always a part of our lives. Will we go upward or (G-d forbid) downward? Will we grow spiritually or slide backwards? There is no standing still.
Someone once compared the human situation to a glass mountain. Either you are progressing or regressing. There is no stopping or standing still. Every day represents a new opportunity to develop and to mature. If we do not take the opportunity to strive for the next level, we will fall backwards.
G-d told Jacob an essential truth. As he embarked on a journey that would last many years and expose him to great dangers, G-d reassured him that every day would contain the potential for growth or the opposite. It all depends on what we do with the opportunities we are given.
This story ought to inspire us to use these days and weeks to go further up our own ladders, and to progress to the next steps of our own spiritual growth.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)