This Shabbat, we read a haftarah from the Book of Hosea. The prophet Hosea lived during the eighth century B.C.E. under King Jeroboam II’s rule, when Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the Northern consisting of 10 tribes and the Southern consisting of two tribes. In the haftarah, Jacob is compared to the Northern Kingdom because when he leaves Canaan, he has to work for Lavan in order to marry Rachel, just like the Northern Kingdom has to serve the foreign conqueror, Assyria.
Using metaphor, the Book of Hosea focuses on the relationship between God and the people of Israel. When they abandon Him and worship idols, God admonishes the People of Israel so they understand their sins and recognize that, with repentance, God is their only Shepherd who will watch, guard and protect them. Similarly, Jacob also commits wrongdoings; for example, he deceives Isaac into securing the blessing of the first born. Consequently, Jacob flees from Israel to Charan to his Uncle Lavan, where he works as a shepherd for Lavan to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage.
The Hebrew verbs eshmor, watch over, and va-ya-avod, serve or work, demonstrate the connection between the Torah and the haftorah. In the haftorah, Jacob is referred to as a shepherd watching over Lavan’s flock of sheep and serving Lavan to marry Rachel just as God protects Jacob’s descendants when they work as slaves in Egypt.
Before Jacob leaves the Land of Israel on his way to Charan, he has a dream in which he envisions a ladder with the angels of God going up and down. God is present and tells Jacob that He is the God of Abraham and Isaac and promises to give the Land of Israel to Jacob and his descendants.
In life, we have dreams about who we will become and what we will do. The image of the sullam, the ladder, in Jacob’s dream makes me think about a stairway, where each step moves me up and forward. But a ladder can also be dangerous. Sometimes we miss a step, slip and fall back. That is why it is important to take small, purposeful steps with thought and intention. It is also very important to remember that ours is not the only ladder. There are other ladders, and we must always look around to make sure other people are not slipping, struggling or falling. We need to be accountable for one another because all of Israel are responsible for one another.
To help those struggling to climb their ladders, I have been volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore City for the past year. Every month, I visit the center and lead a craft activity for sick children and their siblings. Families from all over the world live in the Ronald McDonald House while someone they love is seeking treatment at a local hospital. I have also sewn five blankets for new residents, and I raced in its annual 5K Red Shoe Shuffle to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House. This project has enabled me to take care of children whose journey up their ladder is filled with hardship and pain. I am doing what I can to make it just a little bit easier for them to climb.