Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yaakov's Dream - The Ladder - Deciphering a Metaphor - Continued.

רבנן פתרין ליה בסיני ויחלום והנה סולם זה סיני מוצב ארצה (שמות יט) ויתיצבו בתחתית
ההר וראשו מגיע השמימה (דברים ד) וההר בוער באש עד לב השמים והנה מלאכי אלהים על שם (תהלים סח) רכב אלהים רבותים אלפי שנאן ולמדנו לנביאים שנקראו מלאכים דכתיב (חגי א) ויאמר חגי מלאך ה' במלאכות ה' לעם והנה מלאכי אלהים זה משה ואהרן עולים (שמות יט) ומשה עלה אל האלהים ויורדים זה משה (שם) וירד משה והנה ה' נצב עליו (שם ) וירד ה' על הר סיני אל ראש ההר

The above Midrash (Breishit Rabah 68:12) seems to be a possible source for the interpretation Rambam gives to the dream as explained in my last post. (Professor Sarah Klein Braslavy’s article in Bar Ilan Vol. 22-23, 1987, brought this Midrash to my attention.)

I am intrigued by what this tells us about Sinai. The process of receiving the Torah proceeded in a similar fashion with Moshe “ascending” by understanding the physical world and finding HKBH at the top of the mountain/ladder. In this metaphor, the ladder/Sinai represents the physical world above which we find God as the prime Mover and First Cause. Torah is the practical result of Moshe’s apprehension, an apprehension that is so perfect that it is verbatim God’s words. Moshe brings the Torah down to the people. That is described as descending the ladder/Sinai.

I believe that this comparison with the experience at Sinai is the clue to why Yaakov’s metaphor is a ladder rather than a mountain or any other representation of ascension. Searching for the transcendental God, our minds have to go beyond the physical. We are trying to apprehend things that we cannot touch and feel. We use different methods of thought - inference, induction and deduction. At the end, we develop a picture in our mind of what we apprehended. It is a quite dangerous path as we are always at risk of letting our imagination take over. The only way to finding Truth and not some imaginary deity is by being systematic, following a prescribed regimen of study and development. Rambam repeatedly makes this point and dedicated several chapters in the Moreh (1:32-35) explaining this point. In its description of Sinai, the Torah makes this point over and over when it forbids the people from ascending the mountain or even getting close to it and touching it. It also sets a clear hierarchy of the different levels of apprehension among the participants.

“… but only those of them who were duly qualified were prophetically inspired, each one according to his capacities. Therefore, it is said, "Come up unto the Lord, thou and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu." Moses rose to the highest degree of prophecy, according to the words, "And Moses alone shall come near the Lord." Aaron was below him, Nadav and Avihu below Aaron, and the seventy elders below Nadav and Avihu, and the rest below the latter, each one according to his degree of perfection.” (MN2:32)

The ladder with its rungs represents this orderly ascension. It negates shortcuts promoting systematic learning and development. Rambam describes its utility as “everyone who ascends does so climbing up this ladder, so that he necessarily apprehends Him who is upon it”. Here is just one of the many times Rambam insists on an organized approach to the search for HKBH –

As regards the privileged few, "the remnant whom the Lord calls" (Joel 3:5), they only attain the perfection at which they aim after due preparatory labor. The necessity of such a preparation and the need of such a training for the acquisition of real knowledge, has been plainly stated by King Solomon in the following words: "If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: and it is profitable to prepare for wisdom" (Eccles. x. 10). "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou may be wise in thy latter end" (Prov. xix. 20)…

He who approaches metaphysical problems without proper preparation is like a person who journeys towards a certain place and, on the road, falls into a deep pit, out of which he cannot rise, and he must perish there. If he had not gone forth, but had remained at home, it would have been better for him.” (MN1:34)

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