The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Ladder Of Life

והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה

The Baal Haturim points out that the gematria (numerical value) of סלם, ladder, also equals that of עוני, poverty. Poverty and wealth are often cyclical and life is a ladder. Some climb up and achieve ממון (money = 136) while others fall into עוני (poverty = 136).

Mishlei speaks at length about the relationship between the rich and the poor. In Perek [כב - ב], it describes how when two people meet they are both travelling towards the starting point of the other. The rich goes downhill and the poor goes upwards.

עשיר ורש נפגשו
עשה כלם ה׳
Rich and Poor meet,
Hashem is the Maker of them all.

Observing this simultaneous occurrence it is possible to conclude that man’s destiny lies neither in wealth nor poverty. Both conditions are equally necessary in Hashem’s purposes for human society as a whole, and even for the fulfillment of our own individual tasks. Only one who proves himself both on the ascending and on the descending path of ‘fate’ can reach the pinnacle of perfection that is attainable on this earth. The Pesukim here are speaking of a more metaphorical meeting whereas elsewhere they talk of an actual physical meeting.

If a poor man on his way up and a crafty, cunning man, going downhill, meet on the way, Hashem removes the scales from their eyes. [כט - יג]

רש ואיש תכיכם נפגשו
מאיר עיני שניהם ה׳
If a poor man and an artful man meet,
Hashem gives the eyes of both illumination.

The poor man, who witnesses the descent of the artful one, is warned to hold on to honesty, simplicity and probity, because he sees that it is the lack of these qualities which cause the downfall of the cunning operator. He is advised to take the warning and internalize it – this warning need not only be from the actions of a colleague or acquaintance. Rather, it can be learnt from any figure in the public eye that has fallen from grace due to a dishonest approach to life. The latter, on the other hand, can learn from the ascent of the poor man that it will be useless to redouble his crafty tricks in order to climb up again. On the contrary, he would do better to shed his bad habits, which could not even help him at the top when he was there already. How much less can they enable him to make a truly lasting ascent. He can see for himself that the man of small means is on his way up without craft or cunning. We hope that he should learn that honesty, simplicity and integrity are the fundamental rungs on the ladder.

According to the Yismach Moshe however, Yaakov’s ladder is a metaphor for man himself. Corporeal man formed out of the ground, is set earthward. Nevertheless he is blessed with a Godly soul; hence, the apex of his being reaches heavenward. When man allows his physical needs and existence to dominate him, they drag him downward and he becomes set downward. If, however, he imbues his physical existence with meaning and infuses his life with the spirit of Torah, then the ladder can reach the greatest heights.

The Chofetz Chaim expands on the analogy of man as a ladder. He tells us that the ladder of life has very delicate rungs. One either continues to rise or he automatically falls. If one tries to remain stationary, balancing on a single rung, it breaks and he plummets earthward. Everything is dependent on man; if he does not go up he falls. The angels ascend or descend on him.

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