Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk poses the question: Where is HaShem? To which he answers: Wherever HaShem is allowed to enter.
As a child, the board game Chutes and Ladders was a favorite. The point of the game is to be the first to reach the 100 mark before all the other players regardless of how many ladders you climbed or chutes you slid down. You just had to get there first. If you got lucky, you would land on 80 and climb up a ladder straight to the 100 mark and win. Just the same way, sometimes you would reach all the way until 98, just two away from the goal! But would have to slide down all the way to 78 and lose primacy.
Life shouldn't have to work this way.
In Parashat VaYesse, Yaakov Avinu leaves his home town of Be'er Sheba on his way to Haran. As night falls, he rests his head on several stones and drifts into sleep. Yaakov Avinu dreams of a sulam, a ladder connecting Shamayim (Heaven) and Aress (Earth) with malakhim, angels, climbing and descending it. HaKadosh Barukh Hu then appears to him and promises that the land upon which he is laying will be given to his descendants. Yaakov Avinu then designates the stone upon which he laid his head on as a monument to be made as a House of G-d.
The Torah is not a mere storybook, nor is it one to relay history. Each and every letter, word, pasuk and story possesses within it a much more profound meaning and connection to other realms in the world. This incident with Yaakov Avinu begs the question: What is the significance of Yaakov Avinu's dream? What can we learn from it? Even if we do discover the true meaning, Yaakov Avinu is on a level far higher than us! How could it even be possible for us to apply this on a more personal level?
Among a plethora of many different interpretations of Yaakov Avinu's dream, including that of the Ramban, The Kotzker Rebbe also contemplated the meaning of the sulam and arrives at a spiritual theory of relativity, says Rabbi Shekel. The Rebbe asked his students, who was higher on the ladder? The person at the top or the one at the bottom? We may think to ourselves, obviously the one on top, just like in the game! However, there is no definitive answer; it depends on where one is going, on whether an individual is ascending or descending within his own life's context. The person at the top might initially seem higher, but if he is spiritually on the chute, he is actually lower than the person on the spiritual ladder who is moving upwards. A person might be on 73 which is only 27 spots away from a 100 but be lower than somebody on 67, who is 33 spots away. It is all relative to the direction they are moving. The one who got to 73 just went down a chute from 93 while the one on 67 got there from 51. The question here is, who is making the most progress?
Sometimes, it is not all about what level you stand on, it is about how much you are moving upwards.
PROGRESS is of prime importance here, not stature. Sometimes, in life we are so concerned with advancing all the way to the top that we can overlook what is around us. We leave so much behind all for the pursuit of being 'the best', that one goal always in mind. We close ourselves off to the world for our own selfish benefit of becoming the best (sometimes intentionally and sometimes we do not even realize this). For some, it is unacceptable to be on any level lower; second place just doesn't cut it. But regardless of where we find ourselves, HaKadosh Barukh Hu is always there. That is why while the malakhim are busy ascending and descending, the pasuk says 'HaShem was standing beside him'. There is never a top or bottom here. No matter what level you're on HaKadosh Barukh Hu is right there next to you. The only thing we must do is to keep moving upward. Do not get overwhelmed by how far a goal seems to be. For us it should matter how large ladders are or how far down the chute you slide, it is not about necessarily getting the 100. Just remember: step by step exactly like Yaakov Avinu's ladder. Sure, at time there are setbacks and we can slide down a small chute, but this should only motivate us to regain our position and move forward and climb bigger ladders; as long as we are generally moving upward overall.
Sometimes we cant see our own feet below because we are too busy looking upward at the goal, and sometimes we cannot even see the next rung because we are so intent on remaining where we currently stand, however, in both cases, HaShem is standing next to us, always. The opportunity to experience kedusha is not in the distant, intanglible future, nor is it lodged in the past. Rather, it is here at every moment. In the words of the Kotzker Rebbe: Where is God? Wherever God is allowed to enter.
Be'ezrat HaShem may we all have the koah to keep striving upwards, our goal being that of progress. Wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!