Photo Credit: Jewish Press

According to the Rambam, the ladder in Yaakov’s dream provides an important lesson as to the role of prophets and holy sages within Judaism. While Rambam understands prophecy to be the preserve of those who have greatly developed their intellect, Yaakov’s dream teaches that the prophet, having scaled the heights and gained a great intellectual insight, must return down to the masses to lead and be involved with their affairs. With this message, the Torah rejects the stereotype of the prophet as a reclusive “Man of G-d,” who is removed from and unconcerned with the fate of those around him.

The profound message that Rambam extracts from the ladder dream may be instrumental in resolving the enigmatic ending to his Moreh Nevuchim. Having spent most of the book emphasizing the primary role of a person’s intellect in connecting with G-d both in this world and the next, Rambam concludes with the bombshell that intellectual speculation alone is not sufficient. One must also understand and internalize the “chessed, mishpat and tzeddakah” of G-d’s attributes through which we perceive Him to relate to humanity.


This prototype may help us chart the careers of some of our greatest leaders – such as Avraham and Moshe – who, despite having achieved a high spiritual connection with G-d, saw their ultimate roles as building and teaching the wider nation to follow His paths.


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Rabbi Shmuel Phillips is the author of Judaism Reclaimed: Philosophy and Theology in the Torah" (from which this is adapted). He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.