Ma'asei avot siman l'banim—What happened to our holy forefathers stands as a portent for what will happen to us.
Often discussed on a national level, Rav Miller now brings it down to the personal individual level.
As Rav Miller notes on page 4:
By means of studying the life of Yaakov Avinu, the virtuous Jew learns how to contend with the various difficulties of life, the ups and downs of Olam Hazeh, and still flourish in his avodas Hashem.
And in the end, like Yaakov, he proves successful; he establishes himself as an eved Hashem and he lives a happy life.
The Ladder of Life
Rav Miller emphasizes that the ladder represents our goal of constant upward motion: We must strive to reach Hashem.
Ladders aren't places to hang out and shmooze while playing poker. (The rungs don't make for comfortable seating, nor do they facilitate card games.)
Ladders represent a way to get from one place to another—in this case, UP.
Secondly...why davka a ladder?
Why doesn't Hashem give us wings so we can fly up?
Or a magic carpet, so we can comfortably soar up to our spiritual apex?
Or a rocket? Then we can arrive at our holy destination all the faster.
Hashem WANTS us to climb.
Step by step, rung by rung—with lots of effort!
A ladder means you make the same movements again and again.
And that, says Rav Miller, looms as a primary lesson of Yaakov's history-making ladder.
Never Fear the Initial Hypocrisy or Discomfort
When starting out on a new step of our spiritual journey, we often feel uncomfortable or fake.
With those newly observant to Judaism, a transition period exists in which the new baal teshuvah is basically a secular person who increasingly does mitzvot before he transitions into a frum person who sometimes stumbles in aveirot (transgressions).
That's an entirely natural part of becoming frum.
Yet any person who takes on a new uplifting act or thought pattern experiences a similar dynamic, whether the person is FFB from a chashuv family or a newly-minted baal teshuvah.
We feel awkward & insincere.
Kol hahatchalot kashot—All beginnings are hard.
It takes time to get your foothold & find your rhythm.
It takes time to adapt to the new you and your new shell.
And despite the fumbling awkwardness of it all, take pleasure in the fact that you are doing something fabulous.
What is the Difference between Emunah Sichlit & Real Emunah?
Not like a man told me recently, “I have emunah; I believe and that’s enough.”
The truth is he does have a certain level of emunah.
He has emunah sichlis; he understands that our tradition is the only true one and I’m sure this man would even run into a fire for kiddush Hashem.
But that doesn’t mean he has real emunah.
Emunah means you believe in Hakodosh Boruch Hu at least the same way you believe that you have an Uncle Morris somewhere in the Bronx.
You’re maamim b’emunah sheleimah in your Uncle Morris. Your mother is telling you about him all the time and you even met him once at your bar-mitzvah—he gave you a present. You don’t visit him, he doesn’t visit you, but you know you have an uncle in the Bronx.
Now, if you would believe in Hashem as much as you believe in that uncle, then you’re pretty good! I want to compliment you!
And for that we need to go back to our ladder.
Sometimes, you manage to stretch yourself up 2 or 3 rungs at a time.
But mostly, expect repetitive climbing step by step.
And, starting at the bottom of page 6, Rav Miller offers us a few different programs for climbing that ladder.
3 Programs for Climbing Your Personal Ladder
Talk to Hashem for 1 minute each day.
It's good to read pages 7-8 because Rav Miller offers delicious advice on how to do this program if you're not sure how to start or if you get stuck.
Intriguingly, Rav Miller advises you to pause in this 1-minute practice after a month, and then start up again.
He likens it to stopping for a rest in the middle of your climb.
Because even this 1 minute of holy conversation can start to feel routine and then you find yourself going through the motions, rather than keeping it meaningful.
Recognize everything around you as the Hand of Hashem.
On pages 10-14, Rav Miller offers compelling ideas & descriptions to initiate this recognition.
Also, Rav Miller notes that you can follow Program #2 while you follow Program #1.
They complement each other.
Do things l'Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven).
Again, Rav Miller offers lots of solid direction & compelling examples on pages 15-19 for how to accomplish this.
You do this for the seemingly mundane stuff in life, like going to work, dealing with a customer, serving supper, washing a dish, bathing a child, eating lunch, sleeping, and so on.
Having said all, that Rav Miller cautions us with the following (page 18):
Of course if it’s something that’s not going to help you; let’s say you bought a box of kosher chocolates and you lie down on the bed with a newspaper and you want to gorge yourself for an hour with the chocolates and you say, “I’m doing this l’sheim shomayim” – well, I don’t know if Shomayim would agree to that.
It’s the opposite of becoming strong to serve Him.
If you’re stuffing yourself with all the garbage, it’s not helping you become stronger and healthier.
But as much as possible, you can make your eating a ladder to climb towards Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
3 Things to Remember while Climbing the Ladder
- Don't tell others about your involvement in these programs. (They often discourage you. For more on that, please see page 8.)
- Don't get discouraged. (page 19)
- Hashem is waiting for you at the top of the ladder. (pages 19-21)
May Hashem shower us all with much bracha & hatzlacha in our climb.