The Imrei Aish: The Path-Vayeitzei
The 24th of Tevet is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Meir Eisenstadt, also known as Meir Ash (Dec. 2, 1861). His responsa were published by his son under the title Imrei Eish. He died at Ungvár.
The Sages of the Midrash debate the meaning of the words, “Behold, God was standing over him.” (Genesis 28:13) One Sage reads the verse as God standing above Jacob. Another sage reads the words as saying that God was standing above the ladder.
We also find that Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder is the focus of a debate whether the angels are greater than the righteous, or the righteous greater than the angels. Rav Saadya Gaon takes the latter opinion literally and writes that a righteous person is greater than an angel.
At the heart of this debate is the question of a person’s mission in life: many believe that our challenge is to use our minds to arrive at the truth and then reify our insights and turn them into action. Few people attain such heights, and most of us fail to achieve our purpose. We will never achieve the intellectual purity of the angels who are free of physical desires and distraction. These opinions hold that God “stands” above the angel’s ladder, for they will always achieve more than human beings possibly can.
However, the Sages of Torah believe that our struggle is to live a life of the eternal in this world and to strive toward meaning in everything we do. We are measured by our effort to achieve and to draw close to God. God “stands” above us, not the angels. We, who must struggle with our physical beings are by definition greater than the angels.