The Temple: Source of Israel’s Prosperity
It is written, “He lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night…and he dreamed, and behold: A ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it. … Jacob awoke out of his sleep…and he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven’ ” (Genesis 28:11-17).
Jacob rested when he reached this holy place, the Temple Mount (Chullin 91b), and in his dream he saw a ladder whose feet were set up on earth and whose summit reached the sky, with angels climbing up and down the ladder. In his dream G-d promised him, “Your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth” (Genesis 28:14), but it was only upon awakening that he realized the holiness of that place, since he said: “This is none other than the house of G-d.”
This incident is difficult to understand, and indeed even surprising.
1. Why did Divine Providence bring Jacob to sleep in the exact location of the Temple, rather than in another place? In addition, since G-d could just as well have revealed Himself to Jacob anywhere, why did He choose to do so in that exact spot?
2. We also need to understand and explain the connection that exists between the ladder on which the angels ascended & descended and G-d’s promise to Jacob: “The ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendants” (Genesis 28:13). What did G-d want to convey to him by this?
It was G-d’s will that Jacob, “the chosen of the Patriarchs” (Bereshith Rabba 76:1), should rest precisely in the spot where the Temple would later be built. This was done in order for us to realize through whose merit Jews enter the Temple, approach the Holy of Holies, and connect themselves to G-d. It was also to make us understand that prosperity, blessings, and success originate from that location. Likewise, on that same night Jacob enjoyed a spiritual and physical elevation by sleeping there (after having lived 14 years without sleep), as the Sages said: “Jacob slept in only that place, for he never slept during the 14 years he spent in the academy of Shem and Ever” (Bereshith Rabba 68:11) because he studied without stop.
In fact, after having sensed the holiness of that place, Jacob was gripped with fear and exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven.” In other words, such an abundance of holiness and purity could only be found in the Temple, and thus Jacob understood that from there – from that spot destined for the Temple – sprang the source of all holiness. Those who would come to visit it would bathe in the holiness of “the house of G-d” – the Sanctuary – and the hearts of Israel would remain drawn and connected to G-d and be sanctified. (Note that the word Mishkan [“Sanctuary”] and the word moshech [“to draw”] share the same root). “This is the gate of heaven” means that the Temple (and the merit it procures for us) elevates, sanctifies, and connects us to the Torah, which is acquired by 48 ways (Perkei Avoth 6:6; Kallah 8). When a person attaches himself to his Creator, he enjoys a supreme feeling of elevation and becomes similar to the “ladder set up on the earth” and whose top “reached to heaven,” and he elevates himself ever higher.
Nevertheless, the Children of Israel were in danger of “ascending and descending” in their spiritual life, sometimes conquering the evil inclination, sometimes being conquered by it, as the Sages have said: “When we enter the arena, we leave either victorious or conquered” (Shemot Rabba 27:8).
This teaches us a lesson for life. Today, as we live in exile with the Temple destroyed because of our sins, and since our glory, protection, and sanctification has left us, all that we have left is the Torah, which alone saves us from the effects of our bitter exile (Zohar I:152b; III:176a). All that remains to sanctify us are synagogues and houses of study, “miniature Temples” (Megillah 29a), and we must visit them often in order to escape from harmful influences. The Sages have said, “From the day the Temple was destroyed, all that remains for G-d in this world is four cubits of Halachah” (Berachot 8a), four cubits of Torah and prayer. It is also written, “The L-RD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Psalms 87:2). The “gates of Zion” refer to the gate of heaven that Jacob saw in his vision; “the dwellings of Jacob” refer to the houses of study and prayer that stand in place of the Sanctuary and the Temple. It is only when we visit them that we are saved from stumbling, for as the Sages say: “The Torah protects and saves” (Sotah 21a).