Giving to the Living

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Jacob's Ladder

Meaning and Consequences



The Book of Genesis described a journey that our forefather Jacob had when he left Beersheba and walked toward Haran.  In his journey it became late, the sun was setting, and he was tired.  He took a stone, placed it under his head, and went to sleep.  He dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth which reached  heaven. The angels were ascending and descending on it.  G’d was above the ladder and revealed himself and declared that he, Jacob, as well as his descendants, will be given the land  on which he was lying and, furthermore, he would multiply through his offspring, his children’s children, and all those who would come after them. G’d further declared that he would not leave Jacob “until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.”  When Jacob awoke from his dream he felt that Hashem (G’d ) was with him.  (There was a children’s song created from this parable: “Up and down and up so high from the earth up to the sky, these were angels it would seem came to Jacob in his dream”).
 Jacob’s dream has many interpretations and many meanings:  He was tired and so exhausted that he used a stone for a pillow; reality was harsh and his dream helped him to heal:  That no matter what, he will be comforted, go on his journey, and succeed in establishing generations of descendants who would survive and inherit the “earth” and its goodness.  It was a wish fulfilling dream.

As the story goes, Jacob had both positive and negative experiences and feelings.  He was not responsible for all that happened in his life.  His father preferred him over his brother Esau.  Jacob took advantage of being the favorite of his parents and bought Esau’s  birthright  with a bowl of porridge.  There was guilt and punishment connected with his deed.  He used the ignorance of his brother to disinherit him.  He was, however, set up for this by his family, who made him feel superior and rejected Esau.  Jacob’s punishment followed him throughout his life and took the biggest toll when his favorite son Joseph was thrown into a pit and ultimately sold into slavery.  There was further grief when Joseph retaliated by keeping the youngest brother Benjamin behind for a time when Joseph was in charge of the land through his intelligence and dream interpretations of the seven productive and the seven lean years.  It is a story of “Chad Gadyo”. (Everything has it’s consequences, or, allegedly, “What goes around comes around” – the consequence of crime and punishment).

Both Jacob and Joseph were favored offspring.  They accepted their advantageous status and joyfully accepted and added to it through deeds.  On the other hand, they were raised by their families to act accordingly.  As we would say today, “It was a set up”. 

There are many lessons to be learned from Jacob, Joseph and those who came after them.

In our lives today we have seen many siblings who unfortunately are cruel to each other.  There is the brother who does not speak to his sibling for years.  The brother, as one case would have it, wanted so hard to please him.  He could not win.  He nurtured him, was proud of him, loved him.  His history showed that he came from a troubled and distressed home.  His parents were holocaust survivors.  The siblings lived within the stress that was always there due to the deprivations and traumas that the parents and their offspring had suffered.  The fault lay mainly in the circumstances and its effect.    When the brother married he found a new life.  Although he suffered from depression, he was a very successful man professionally.  His spouse was happy to have him to herself.   She did not encourage unity with his putative family.  We cannot here determine the etiology of every aspect of this problem; we only know that the roots of this sadness existed long before the siblings became adults.  It is a “Nevere” to carry on such animosity and has sad and dire consequences for the rejected one and ultimately for the brother who chooses not to have a peaceful and caring relationship with the family into which he was born. The offspring of the hostilities and withdrawals will be felt and ultimately repeated in a subsequent generation who have witnessed it from their father.  Just as with Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, it causes much damage and has its long reaching consequences in alienation and unhappiness! Let all of us strive to be like Joseph after he had forgiven his brothers and ultimately rewarded them by giving them food and by returning young Benjamin to his much beloved father -  Jacob!  Let us give Koved and love to the living - not wait to eulogize them after their death!


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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