Sigmund Freud was a lousy scientist. Most of his theories were unscientific postulations that painted every human being as a… sicko. But one thing he did get right is the interface between our subconscious and our dreams. There’s a lot going on up here right now that we are not conscious of. Even the most self-aware individual does not and cannot comprehend the full extent of fears and unmet desires that are flitting through our brain that we suppress. We walk around looking and feeling confident and good, blissfully unaware of the anxieties and doubts that are lurking beneath. But when we close our eyes at night, our defense system goes to sleep as well, and all those emotions hiding in the dark corners of our mind, they all come out to play.
We see this most clearly with Yaakov our forefather. He is the most stoic of our ancestors, facing a murderous brother, a sinister father-in-law, and a life of endless travails. But none of it seems to affect him. For all intents and purposes, he is successful as can be. He is wealthy, the father of 12 strapping young men and a beautiful daughter, and he’s looked up to by all who meet him. He faces each challenge with equanimity, and even when he reunites with his beloved son after decades, not a tear can be found in his eyes. Complete control of his emotion, no fear, no worries.
Until he goes to sleep…
וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם
“Yaakov went to sleep, and he dreamt.”
ְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃
“There’s a ladder with its feet on the ground and its top in the heavens. And on it, angels are ascending and descending.”
Who are these angels?
The Ramban quoting Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer explains that the vision of Yaakov was a vision of all his suppressed fears. The angels climbing the ladder were not cherubic angles of goodness. These angels were evil, they were enemies – his enemies and the enemies of his descendants, who would climb to incredible heights. And while some would go up and go down, the ladder reached the heavens – Yaakov sensed that some of those struggles would never seem to end. A never-ending ascent of evil that he and his children would have to bear. Yaakov realized for the first time, that although he put on a good game face, although he had swagger, although he felt confident, but deep down he was scared. Very scared.
Like all the stories of our forefathers, they repeat in our lives. This nightmare of Yaakov’s sounds awfully familiar. It’s a recurring dream lurking in the subconscious of the entire Jewish People. We may be wildly successful, both materially and spiritually. On the outside, we look comfortable. Our leaders are getting invites to White House Chanukah parties. We’re expanding our homes. Our day schools are busting at the seams.
But sometimes, late at night, we look up and we see this ladder being climbed by powerful antisemites and it just does not seem to end. We see former rapper, Kanye spewing insanity – “Hitler was a good person,” “I like Nazis.” And yes, he is not well, but the millions of fans that endorse his views, are they also all crazy? And we look higher on the ladder, and we see people like comedian Dave Chappelle on Saturday Night Live giving voice to every antisemitic trope of Jews running the world while arguing that it’s not really antisemitism. And then we look higher on the ladder, and we see hundreds of Black Hebrews marching through New York chanting, “We are the real Jews.” And then we look higher, and we see our good friends at the UN, who never fail to surprise us with how low they could go, who this past week, voted to commemorate the “Nakba.” Nakba means catastrophe and it’s the word used that may Arabs use to describe the establishment of State of Israel. וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה This ladder truly reaches the heavens.
I know exactly how Yaakov felt that night, tossing and turning, not knowing what’s in store.
But G-d shares with us a message. It’s a three-part message He conveyed to Yaakov three thousand years ago, and it’s just as relevant today. It’s a message that may not be so novel, but it’s worth repeating from time to time.
- אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ I am Hashem, the G-d of Avraham your father.
G-d begins comforting Yaakov by reminding him that their relationship goes way back. Because you see, the claim that we are not the real Jews did not start with a lousy movie streaming on Amazon. There were those who claimed we came from the Khazars and we were not biological descendants of the Jewish People. There were those, like the Church, who claimed that we may have been biological descendants but G-d walked away from us due to our sins. This claim goes all the way back to Eisav who argued that despite his evil ways, and despite selling his right to the firstborn he was the rightful heir to Avraham and Yitzchak.
And to this G-d replies, “I am Hashem the G-d of Avraham and Yitzchak your father.” You are the real Jews. There is not a smidget of evidence connecting us to the Khazars. Our DNA traces us back to the Near East. Historical records demonstrate an unbroken chain leading us back to the Land of Israel. And G-d in this prophetic message He shares with Yaakov and throughout the entire Torah makes one thing clear that He will never ever let us go. You are the real Jews, G-d told Yaakov, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Then G-d continues,
- הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָThe land upon which you lie, will be given to you and your descendants.
The number of people who claim that we do not belong in our homeland is staggering. Not only non-Jews, but Jews as well. But G-d promised us the land and then He gave us that land, leaving no doubt to anyone with a drop of integrity that we are the indigenous people of the land of Israel. We could argue about the merits of a two-state solution forever. But what we cannot do is argue if Israel is our land. Every day, new archeological digs present layer of evidence and after layer of evidence.
And yet, on college campuses all over this country, our children are taunted and assaulted over their connection to their home. Aside from the not-so-thinly-veiled antisemitism cloaked in antizionism, it’s just false. It is our land.
And finally, G-d concludes,
- הָיָ֤ה זַרְעֲךָ֙ כַּעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ֛ יָ֥מָּה וָקֵ֖דְמָה וְצָפֹ֣נָה וָנֶ֑גְבָּה and your children will be like the dust of the land, spreading to the west, east, north, and south
And here, the antisemites are on to something. G-d promises that we will spread through the world, and this has certainly taken place. Not only have we spread through the world, but in each place we are exiled, we quickly climb the ladders of success. It’s this success that led comedian Dave Chapelle to comment on the abundance of Jews in Hollywood, leading banks, and the media.
Now I don’t have to tell you that none of these Jews get along with one another and are certainly not coordinating anything in back rooms. We could barely get ten people in this room to agree on anything, the notion of a Jewish cabal is hilarious.
But it’s the end of the verse that we Jews often omit. “וְנִבְרְכ֥וּ בְךָ֛ כׇּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָ֖ה and the nations of the world will be blessed through you.” Our success is not meant to be self-serving. We are meant to be a light of morality, not materialism. We are meant to be outward-focused, not xenophobic. We are meant to be a blessing. Not a curse.
This is the action item. When we face antisemitism, yes, we need to affirm our connection to our homeland, we need to remind ourselves how G-d will always remain connected to us, but we also need to look in the mirror. Are we a blessing? Or are we a curse? Are we ensuring that not only do the nations of the world have nothing negative to say about us, but that they walk away from our every interaction with a sense of being blessed because they met us.
As Yaakov struggled with his deepest darkest fears, as Yaakov with questions that we, his descendants would grapple with daily, G-d conveyed a message of comfort, hope, and direction.
- I am your G-d, and I will never let you go. G-d will never forsake as a people, and so too, He will never forsake anyone of us.
- The land of Israel is the land of Israel. Don’t let anyone rewrite our history.
- And lastly, we must use our success to be a blessing to the world.
Allow me to conclude with the words of Mark Twain, words that we’ve quoted before but words that bring me comfort when I find myself, like Yaakov, unable to escape the nightmares of antisemitism:
“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.
The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains.”