We read in Parashat Vayetze of Yaakov’s dream which he beheld as he made his way from Canaan to his uncle’s home in Charan. The famous dream featured a ladder extending from the ground where he slept to the sky, with angels ascending and descending the ladder (28:12). Rashi, citing the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 68:12), explains that the angels that had accompanied Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael now returned to the heavens, and new angels – who would accompany him abroad – descended to assume their role of protecting Yaakov.
Symbolically, Rashi’s description expresses the fact that we require different “angels” in different places and circumstances. The “angels” that accompanied Yaakov in Canaan, the strategies and techniques he needed to overcome his challenges and achieve his goals, would now have to give way to a new set of “angels.” His departure from Eretz Yisrael thrust him into an entirely different set of circumstances and problems he would need to address, and he would thus need a different group of “angels” to succeed.
The Torah writes that in Yaakov’s dream, in addition to the vision of the ladder, Yaakov also beheld God “standing over him” (“Ve-hinei Hashem nitzav alav” – 28:13). Rashi briefly comments that God “stood” there near Yaakov “le-shomro” – to protect him. Rav Heschel of Cracow, in his Chanukat Ha-Torah, offers a clever reading of Rashi’s remark. At that moment, when the angels of Eretz Yisrael ascended to the heavens and the new angels made their way down the ladder, Yaakov found himself in a state of vulnerability. The angels of Eretz Yisrael were already on their way heavenward, and the angels of chutz la-aretz were still making their way down to Earth. During these interim moments, Yaakov was left without protection, and so God came to stand by him and protect him.
There are times in life when we find ourselves without “angels,” without the resources or knowledge that we need to care for ourselves and succeed. The “angels” we have relied upon in the past are no longer relevant, and we have yet to receive the means or skills we need to confront our new challenges. In such moments, we need to trust that “ve-hinei Hashem nitzav alav” – God extends to us His assistance and protection. When we feel helpless and forlorn, without our familiar “angels” to guide and care for us, we can find comfort and security in the knowledge that the Almighty is by our side and helping us at every step of the way.