Ascent Versus Descent by Max Shulman


In Parashat VaYeitzei, we learn about Yaakov’s famous dream in which he sees a tall ladder extending from the ground to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. This dream is different from all other dreams we hear about in Sefer BeReishit because the interpretation relies solely on commentaries as opposed to being explained directly by the text. 

One interpretation states that Hashem foreshadows to Yaakov about two of his descendants, Moshe and Korach.  Moshe ascended to heaven while Korach was swallowed by the earth.

The Baal HaTurim notes that the Gematria, numerical value, of the words “Sulam (ladder) and “Mammon” (money) are both equal to 136, if the “Vav” is included in both. What is the connection between money and a ladder? A ladder is a metaphor for both money and poverty.  A ladder can bring a person to his greatest height but can also bring him to his lowest depths. The same can be said of money; on one hand, if Hashem grants a person wealth, he has the potential to reach great heights because he can choose to give a remarkable amount of charity and do Chesed (righteous deeds) with the gift. If so, the money will have brought him to his greatest peak. On the other hand, if one is extremely selfish with his money or uses it for worthless pursuits, the money can bring him to the lowest levels of debasement.

The connection between money and a ladder can be applied to Korach and Moshe as well. Our sages tell us that both of these men were very wealthy, yet one was a leader of the Jewish people, and one was swallowed by the earth.  Korach used his wealth to challenge Moshe’s authority, which brought him down. Moshe in contrast, became the father of all prophets and the teacher of all of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe’s wealth led him only upwards.

Even in this day and age, everyone should ponder Hashem’s message to Yaakov and essentially Hashem’s message to us. Our challenge is to use Hashem’s gifts to bring us to our highest potential just as Moshe achieved. On a broader note, we should incorporate in our daily lives that everything in this world has the ability to be used for good or bad. We should all be Zocheh to express gratitude to Hashem and eventually we should be able to thank Him for the bringing of the Mashiach, BeMheira BeYameinu.

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