In Bereshit Rabbah, Bar Kappara states, "There is no dream without an interpretation." There are many dreams, though, whose meanings are not at all clear, and Yaakov's vision in Beit El is a case in point.1 As Yaakov falls asleep, he sees a ladder reaching towards the heavens. Angels ascend and descend, and Hashem stands on top.2 What does each part of the vision represent? Who are these angels? Why are they going up and down (and why in that order)? What does the ladder symbolize?
The dream contained not only visuals, but also Hashem speaking:
(יג) וְהִנֵּה ה' נִצָּב עָלָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֶךָ. (יד) וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ. (טו) וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי לָךְ.
(13) And Hashem was standing upon him, and He said: I am Hashem, the God of Avraham your father, and the God of Yitzchak: the land on which you are sleeping shall be yours and your descendants'. (14) And your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall cover all the land to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south; and you and your descendants will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. (15) And I am with you, and I shall watch over you wherever you go, and I shall guide you back to this land; and I will not leave you till I have done what I have said to you.
How do Hashem's words relate to the vision itself? Are they an interpretation of the symbols seen by Yaakov or a separate and distinct message?
"This is a House of God"
Upon awakening, Yaakov notes the awesomeness of the site, declaring, "אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם", and he then erects a monument. What makes Yaakov react so passionately? When others receive a prophecy or dream, we do not usually find any equivalent response or declaration.3 Is Yaakov's statement somehow related to the message imparted to him through the dream, or is it simply a reaction to revelation? Moreover, was Beit El really more of a "gateway to heaven" than any other city? Why did the dream take place here?