Leaning Ladders

women-of-bible-rachel-and-leah

Marc Chagall’s “Leah and Rachel”

Two teachings of Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, from Kedushas Levi, Parshat Shemot.

These are the names of the children of Israel…  …אלה שמות בני ישראל Exodus 1:1

Leah named Reuven so “for God has seen my affliction and now my husband will love me,” and Shimon “for God has heard that I am hated,” and Levi for “now this time my husband will be joined to me,” and so forth. Now surely we would never say that the tribes were called because of some base desire (God forbid!). Rather, the names of the tribes teach us about lifting every desire to God alone. In the names “Reuven”and “Shimon” Leah raised up all desires that are between a man and a woman to the Creator; likewise the name “Levi” teaches about raising all intimacy to the Creator. This is why the word used for the tribes is mattot, as in matteh, “leaning a ladder,” from her up to God.

We can also explain the verse this way: It seems that the matriarchs named the tribes after particular events in their lives. This is to counter the claims of the wicked who say that God is higher than high and does not watch over the world below, for the truth is that even though the blessed Holy One is higher than high, God watches over the world below, to guide everything according to the divine desire. This is why the matriarchs named the tribes as they did — to teach that nothing is done in the world below outside of the will of the blessed Holy One. This is why the word used for the tribes is mattot, as in matteh, “leaning a ladder” — God descends on the ladder to involve Himself in the world below, and we raise the world back up to God.

Sources: for God has seen…Genesis 29:32 and on; leaning a ladder…Mishnah Beitzah 1:3.

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