Jacob’s ladder

Jacob left Beer-Sheva and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place – Hb. THE place – and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set.

Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream: a stairway – or a ladder – was set on the ground and its top reached the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.

And the Eternal was standing beside him, and God said:

“I am the Eternal, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. The ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and your offspring… Remember, I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you”.

Jacob awoke from his sleep and said,

“Surely the Eternal is in this place, and I did not know it!… How awesome is this place. This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to Heaven”.

 

– Genesis 28: 10 – 13; 15 – 17

This event happens in Jacob’s life at a transitional stage. Jacob is fleeing his brother, whom he had cheated by stealing his birth right, and he is heading to his uncle Laban’s, where he hopes to find a wife.

Jacob’s ladder is central to the first degree tracing board. Richard Carlile, in his Manual of Freemasonry, first published in a single volume in 1831, and many times in the following decades, explains:

The covering of a Freemason’s lodge is a celestial canopy of divers colours, even as the heavens.  The way by which we, as masons, hope to arrive at it is by the assistance of a ladder, in Scriptures called Jacob’s Ladder. It is composed of many staves, or rounds, which point out as many moral virtues. Three are principal ones – Faith, Hope and Charity…

 

In Masonic rituals, this ladder is understood as a stairway, a passage from this world to the Heavens. It also symbolizes to a certain extent the journey of a Freemason towards the light.

Let us go back to the biblical text.

Jacob arrives at ‘the place’, which is often translated as ‘a certain place’.

According to Rashi, the French medieval commentator, this place is nothing less than Mount Moriah, the mount upon which the Temple of Jerusalem will be erected.

The Targum Jonathan, an Aramaic translation of the Torah, is even more specific.

It translates this verse as, ‘and he – Jacob – prayed in the place of the Holy Temple and slept there because the sun had set’.

In biblical sacred geography, the Temple Mount plays a central role. Before the Temple was built, encounters had already happened ‘in this place’, such as this story, or the binding of Isaac a few chapters earlier.

It is a place of revelation, where the veil between the worlds is lifted.

When the Rabbis had to reinvent Jewish religion after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., they used this verse to say that Jacob has instituted the evening prayer: ‘Jacob instituted the evening prayer, as it said, ‘and he encountered the place and he slept there’.

Encounter means nothing than prayer’ (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakhot, page 26b).

Jacob dreams of a ladder – or a stairway – which is called in Hebrew Sulam.

It is an hapax – the only occurrence in the Bible – and its numerical value – gematria – is Sinai, or Kol, voice.

Sinai is the place of Revelation, the mount upon which God revealed the words of Torah with a loud voice.

The bottom of the ladder is on the ground, where Jacob is lying. It is as if this ladder was springing forth from Jacob’s body.

The top reaches the Heavens, and angels are first ascending, and then descending. Prayers go up first, and once they are heard, God responds.

It is a movement of the soul that is engaged in an eternal journey from this world to others, and vice versa. The door is open only when we make the effort to travel up.

The Targum suggests that these angels were those who were accompanying Jacob in his tribulations, and when he falls asleep, they travel up to bring his hopes to the Creator of All.

 

The vision of Jacob’s ladder. Colour lithograph by L. Gruner after N. Consoni after Raphael.
IMAGE LINKED:  wellcome collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The climax of the dream happens when God speaks. God renews the promise made to Abraham and Isaac of a land that will belong to their offspring.

But it goes further: I am with you; I will protect you. That is the answer to unsaid prayers, to hopes that Jacob didn’t dare to express when he was in this low point of his life.

And when he awakes from his sleep, Jacob says, ‘Surely, the Eternal is in this place, and I didn’t know it. This is the abode of God’.

Transcendence and immanence, this moment when two worlds meet, and communication is open.

There is no better biblical story for Freemasonry to symbolize the journey of a Freemason. The lodge has no physical roof. It is open to a celestial canopy of colours and stars.

The ladder depicted on the first degree tracing board allows the seeker to reach higher truths; it gives a direction and a purpose. It is not simply contemplation, but also action.

Jacob’s ladder is indeed a gateway to the world of action and creation, and it culminates in the world of Atzilut, intimacy, intimacy with the Self, and intimacy with the Higher Being.

 

Ace of Wands from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, associated with Atzilut in western occultism. Believed to be in the Public Domain.
IMAGE LINKED:  Wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Article by: Rene Pfertzel

Rene Pfertzel was initiated in 1992 in Lodge Ouverture et Fraternité 1540, in the French Federation of the International Co-Masonry, Le Droit Humain.

After a gap of over 15 years, he re-joined Le Droit Humain in the British Federation, Lodge Hermes 20.

He has a PhD in Biblical Studies, and after a career as a history teacher in France, he retrained to become a Rabbi in London, and stayed in the United Kingdom ever since. He serves a Progressive community in Surrey.

Robert Carlile wasn’t himself a Freemason, but his work was used in English Freemasonry until the beginning of the 20th century as a source of study.

Rituals are not meant to be published, but we have works done by authors who ‘revealed’ some texts, sometime for educational purposes, sometime for less generous motives.

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Kabbalah & Freemasonry: Becoming One With God

by Nebojša Nikolić (Author), Igor Solunac (Translator)

What is the secret of Freemasonry?

What is it that has held the world’s first and largest Fraternity together for centuries?

Why have the countless known and unknown Brothers diligently labored towards fitting their minds, “as living stones, for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”?

In today’s world, most of the Masonic lodges have entirely forgotten—or have never even learned—where Masonry came from and what its original mission in the world was.

Many of the six million seekers of the Light around the globe blindly stumble through the darkness of that ignorance, going through the motions of various rituals without understanding what the “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” behind the organization they joined is really about.

To make matters worse, our modern age brought a proliferation of ludicrous conspiracy theories, muddying the waters even further and attracting many of those after materialistic gains.

On the other hand, after two millennia of deep secrecy, Kabbalah opened its gates wide to all genuine spiritual seekers. The long-hidden secrets—the nature of God, the Names of God, the Zohar, the Tree of Life, cosmic meaning of the Hebrew alphabet, creation of the world, the structure of reality—have been revealed to the world.

Originally published by the Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia in A.L. 6017, Freemasonry & Kabbalah: Becoming One With God is an important work that fills the gap in modern Masonic education.

The book introduces the 21st-century Brethren to the true essence of the Craft in a clear, approachable, and easy-to-understand language and without any undue mystification.

The author offers an overview and interpretation of Kabbalistic secrets and points out that the Craft is deeply rooted in this tradition.

Some of the basic Masonic postulates, incomprehensible to most modern Brethren, are easily explained through Kabbalah and its interpretations:

• Knowing thyself,
• Brotherly love,
• Immortality of the soul,
• Meaning of life and death,
• The Great Architect of the Universe,
• Charity,
• Cosmic meaning of silence.

After reading Freemasonry & Kabbalah: Becoming One With God, these and other concepts familiar to every Mason will acquire a new and fresh meaning, and the genius of the hidden founders of the Fraternity will start blazing across centuries with a renewed brilliance and Light.

 

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