The Ladder between the Heaven and Earth
Close to the beginning of today’s Torah Portion, we find the famous dream of Jacob in Bethel. You may remember that Jacob was running from the wrath of his brother after deceiving his elderly father in the previous Portion (Toledot). At that point he was probably concerned only with his own survival and was not really looking for a spiritual experience. Nevertheless, the God of Abraham and Isaac appeared to the fugitive, made himself known to him, and reaffirmed the promises. In Jacob’s dream, he saw a ladder connecting earth and heaven, and the angels were ascending and descending on this ladder. Why did they first ascend, and only then descend? Here is an explanation of the Jewish medieval commentator Rashi: Outside of the Land, Jacob needed different guardians from those that protected him in his birthplace. The angels that accompanied Jacob in Canaan don’t go outside and therefore ascend to Heaven; then another group of angels descend to accompany him outside the Land.
Of course, everyone who has ever read the New Testament, would be immediately reminded of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus presents Himself as the True Ladder connecting earth and heaven: the ladder by which God’s revelation and God’s salvation comes from the heaven to earth: And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
There is no doubt that Jesus alludes here to Jacob’s dream. By referring to Jacob’s dream at the very beginning of his Gospel, John suggests that from now on, the Son of Man will play the role of this ladder, bridging the gap between earth and heaven. Through his dream, Jacob receives revelation from God and confirmation of the same promises that God gave to Abraham and Isaac. According to John, through the Son of Man his followers will also receive revelation and affirmation of the previous promises.
More about the Angels
This Torah Portion is full of angels; not only did Jacob see angels going up and down the ladder in this famous dream on the way from the Land, but many years later, when he was on his way back to the Land, at the very end of our Parashah, we read: Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp. ”And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
Unlike the description of Jacob’s dream, the “Mahanaim” report is very short, and we don’t really know what the angels were doing and how this meeting went. However, there is an intriguing detail here that one can see only in Hebrew. “When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp”, so he named that place Mahanayim”. Mahanayim is a dual construction of the word “mahane” (camp), so Jacob, in fact, called this place “Two camps”! Why? Rashi explains that Jacob indeed encountered two teams of angels, exactly like in his dream—and therefore he saw two separate camps: one of the angels outside the Land, who came with him up to this point, and one of the angels of Israel, who came to greet him. According to Rashi, these are the same two groups of angels—only while in Bethel Jacob saw them in dream, now they “met” him when he was awake, as if to provide an even stronger feeling of security.
Thus, we understand that angels played an important role in God’s protection and guidance of Jacob. This understanding of different angels performing different activities on earth at God’s command is very consistent throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. It complies completely with the New Testament, where angels are understood to be “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation”. Here the angels also guide and protect God’s people, punish God’s enemies, bring messages from God, and interpret prophetic dreams and visions.
Twelve Tribes in the New Testament
According to the Torah, twelve tribes of Israel originated from the twelve sons of Jacob. Therefore, the births of Jacob’s sons are described in great detail in this Torah portion. The story of twelve tribes starts here …but where does it end?
Toward the very end of the New Testament, in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, we read a description of the New Jerusalem: “Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel”
Why are the 12 tribes of Israel so important—not only in biblical history, but also in biblical prophecy? Some people mistakenly think that the tribes of Israel no longer serve any purpose in the New Testament. The truth is that almost all the tribes are mentioned in the New Testament by name. Even in his message to Mary announcing her pregnancy and Jesus’ miraculous birth, Gabriel says:
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, the expression “the house of Jacob” always refers to the Jewish tribes—to the descendants of Jacob/Israel. So the twelve tribes of Israel are still very important in the New Testament, and the fact that the names of the twelve tribes are on the gates of the New Jerusalem, as the book of Revelation describes her, is an additional proof of that. It’s interesting to note that while the twelve gates in the wall represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve foundations of the wall represent the twelve New Testament apostles:
Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the name of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Thus, the Book of Revelation emphasizes the unity of the Old and New Testaments.
 John 1:51
 Gen. 32:1-2
 Gen. 32:2
 Rev. 21:12
 Luke 1:32,33 [emphasis added]
 Rev. 21:14
The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher courses (firstname.lastname@example.org) . At this point, we offer WTP course only in English, while DHB course exists both in Spanish and Portuguese.
If you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/ . My last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and Jewish Background insights into NT, is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11