There is a marked contrast set up by two similar events in the book of Genesis, Breishis. We read in Vayatzei about Jacob having a dream that is really a visit from God. He sees a ladder stretching, Midrash tells us, from his home in BeerSheva to the place he was sleeping, Mount Moriah, site of the Akeida of his father and the future home to the Holy Temples of Jerusalem. There are angels ascending and descending from the ladder, proving, the Rabbis tell us, that Jacob was being guarded by heavenly creatures during his travels. The sages tell us that because the first angels are going up the ladder; they must have been with Jacob all along. The ones coming down are arriving to take up the guard duty that is being passed to them from the first set of angels. And, one might ask, what about the time that Jacob was unguarded, the time in between the two sets of angels? At that time, our commentaries state, Jacob was being watched over by God Himself. The message from God is then given to Jacob. It is a reiteration of the covenant given to his father and his grandfather: God will bless the fledgling Jewish nation and will give to them the land upon which Jacob is sleeping. God will be with him wherever he goes.
This metaphor of Divine protection seems so comforting to me. From Jacob’s vision, perhaps we can all conclude that we are all under the shelter of God’s wings.
Another story of a dream is related later, in Parshat Miketz. Pharaoh is sleeping and has an encounter with God. The dream is about seven lean cows and seven fat cows, a warning to the king about impending doom to his country. Of course, as we know, it would take Joseph to interpret the puzzling metaphor.
Besides the obvious differences in tone of each dream, there is another telling difference between the two narratives. When Pharaoh awakened from his sleep, the Torah relates that he went back to sleep. What a departure from Jacob’s reaction to his dream! The Torah tells us in Vayeitzei that when he awakens, he is immediately aware of the Presence of God and he dedicates himself to Divine service. Quite different than turning over and going back to sleep.
The Baal Shem Tov, the first Chassidic master, quoted the Talmud that each day a Heavenly Voice emanates from the mountain of Sinai, urging people to do teshuvah, to return to the Mitzvot. “Of what use is this voice,” asked the Baal Shem Tov, “since no one has ever attested to hearing it?”
He then explained that although the voice is physically inaudible to the human ear, it is heard by the neshama, the soul. The moments that we are moved to do teshuvah and acts of loving-kindness are due to the neshama perceiving the voice from Sinai.
As we see from the two reactions to a call from God, there can be two results. We can ignore the call and go back to the hibernation of ingrained habits, or we can emulate our forefather Jacob and rouse ourselves to a wakened state in order to make positive changes and to take constructive action.