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Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Jacob cannot sleep peacefully.”

In its commentary on Jacob’s dream, the following midrash disputes whether the verse, “and angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28:12), is describing angels going up and down on the ladder or on Jacob himself:

According to the interpretation that they were ascending and descending on Jacob, the meaning is that they were exalting him but also degrading him, surrounding him, leaping around him, and maligning him.

For it says, “Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Is. 49:3).

[Said the angels,] “Are you the one whose image is engraved on high?”

They ascended on high and saw his [ideal] image, and they descended below and found him sleeping. (Genesis Rabba 68:12)

The angels stand beside Jacob, leap on him, pinch him, and abuse him, asking, “Is this you, Jacob, whose image is found up in heaven – and here you are, sleeping?

Is this what you do down here in this world?”

The angels ascend and descend, and Jacob turns over onto his other side and continues sleeping.

If his image were not under the Throne of Glory, if angels of God were not ascending and descending on Jacob, then it would be perfectly acceptable for Jacob to sleep.

After all, Pharaoh slept, Nebuchadnezzar slept – let Jacob sleep peacefully as well.

But Jacob cannot sleep peacefully, because angels of God are ascending and descending on him.

He himself is the ladder that bridges the chasm between heaven and earth, on which all of existence ascends and descends.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz