“Vayishkav bamakom hahu” – “and he [Yaakov] lay down to sleep in that place.” Rashi, citing Chazal, explains: “in that place he lay down to sleep, but during the previous fourteen years that he studied in the yeshiva of Ever he did not lie down at night because he was pre-occupied with learning Torah.”
Rabbi Mayer Twersky, one of our esteemed roshei yeshiva, poses a simple yet vexing question. If for fourteen years Yaakov Avinu was able to muster the strength to learn so diligently that he never once slept in the comfort of a bed, what suddenly happened to change that practice? It seems overly simplistic to assume that he was suddenly overcome by complete fatigue.
Perhaps the answer is found in the next verse, “VaYachalom – and he dreamt.” Yaakov did not lie down to sleep and happen to dream; but rather he lay down to sleep in order to dream.
A dream is more than merely our subconscious thoughts while we slumber. A dream represents a vision for the future. Yaakov understood that there are moments in our lives, times when we stand at a crossroads or transition, when it is critical to dream. Yaakov was about to embark on a mission unlike anything he had previously experienced in the hallowed walls of the yeshiva of Ever. He was about to enter a foreign environment, the home of Lavan, a world devoid of holiness and spiritual aspirations. Therefore, Yaakov needed to find direction, and so, “Vayishkav bamakom hahu,” he lay down, and then he dreamt.
What, in fact, did he dream of? “And behold a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached towards the heavens” – he saw a vision which captures man’s internal compass, always looking towards the heavens for guidance, inspiration and spiritual aspirations. Yaakov saw the image of angels ascending and descending the ladder. This represented to him that Hashem is with a person at all times and in all situations. The secret to traversing the more challenging times in life, when we may feel that we are on the lower end of the ladder, is to keep our heads facing towards the heavens, with faith that this is part of a continuum that eventually brings us closer to Hashem.
Like our forefather Yaakov, we too need to dream, especially at times of transition and change. Whether we are embarking on a new career, getting married, graduating from one educational level to another, or considering retirement, it is critical to take stock and reflect before making that transition. Just as Yaakov set aside time to reflect upon his many years at yeshiva, so too we must internalize the lessons and guidance we receive from our teachers and mentors as we move from one environment and setting to another. The specifics inevitably vary from one person to the next, but what is certain is that a plan and tangible goals are necessary to maintain commitments in unfamiliar surroundings.
When we dream it is important to “dream big” and to set goals that are attainable, but at the same time perhaps beyond what we would naturally reach.
After the first three seasons in Citi Field and coming off a year in which the New York Mets hit a mere 50 home runs in 81 home games, the Mets general manager, Sandy Alderson, decided that something had to be done. However, he did not recruit another slugger to the team or have his team work on their power hitting during the offseason. He changed the dimensions of the field by lowering a number of outfield walls from 16 feet to 8 feet and bringing in others closer to home plate! This is an example of lowering the bar and expectations. As a lesson to future generations, Yaakov instructs us to raise the bar and to push ourselves in order to maximize our potential.
Yeshiva University is fortunate to have the rebbeim, mashgichim, and a nurturing environment that afford the opportunity to prepare the next generation of both klei kodesh and lay kodesh for the challenges and opportunities of the world beyond the hallowed walls of yeshiva. We offer courses in business ethics and the interface between halacha and medicine and law. Our graduates receive a strong foundation in classical Talmud Torah, coupled with its application in an ever-changing world. They learn how to balance the pursuit of a vocation while remaining steadfast in their commitment to Torah and mitzvot. Many of our roshei yeshiva are involved in the halachic applications of cutting-edge technology and medical advances. Our students travel the globe to build communities on service missions that offer assistance to those in need.