Ohr Hachayim Genesis: Vayetze
“The ultimate function of prophecy is not to tell the future, but to make it.”
– Joel A. Barker
Jews are notorious for significant accomplishments across a breadth of fields and disciplines. There have been multiple theories as to the outsized proportion of Jewish Noble Prize winners and other intellectual, medical, technological, political, artistic and economic achievements.
Some have explained it is the extreme Jewish value of education (the only culture to have close to 100% literacy throughout history). Others like to refer to the unique Talmudic system of thinking and analysis (now being emulated in some ways in the Far East). I have my own theory: Prophecy. And the Ohr Hachayim backs me up.
I don’t mean prophecy in the narrow sense of God speaking to an emissary or carrying God’s message or predicting the future. I mean something more subtle.
On his journey out of Canaan, the Patriarch Jacob has a now-famous dream. He dreams of a ladder, with its legs on the earth reaching to the heavens. He sees angelic beings ascending and descending these supernatural steps. The Ohr Hachayim (Genesis 28:14) explains that the vision of the ladder was an extremely powerful symbol – a symbol with deep meaning to Jacob’s descendents.
The heavenly ladder symbolizes our connection to God. It symbolizes our ability to connect with Him. To reach him, one rung at a time; though we may be firmly rooted on earth, with can still grasp the divine. The Ohr Hachayim makes another statement. He says the ladder is a sign to all Jacob’s descendants that they too can reach Prophecy. They can hear God whispering to them. They can feel that divine insight in their stomachs that drives them to excel. They can listen to the supernatural instincts that lead them to accomplishments beyond expectations. That is the prophetic instinct I’m talking about.
May we listen to God’s whispers – we may need some quiet to do so.
To Mark Twain. I can’t help thinking about his essay on Jews when I wave the flag of tribal pride. I’ve included it below. It’s always nice to review.
Mark Twain on the Jews
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.
The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmaties, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
–Mark Twain, September 1897