On his way to Haran, fleeing the wrath of his twin brother, Esau, Jacob stopped to rest and had his famous dream: he saw a ladder fixed to the ground, its top reaching the very heavens, with angels of G‑d ascending and descending.1

Interestingly, the Baal Haturim2 comments that the Hebrew word for ladder, סלם (sulam), has the same numeric value (130) as the Hebrew word סיני (Sinai). What is the connection between the ladder in Jacob’s dream and Mount Sinai?

Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv for 10 years until his passing in 1946, explains3 that the part of the ladder embedded in the earth symbolizes Abraham, who represents kindness. Abraham’s kindness and compassion expressed itself primarily in his hospitality—in material, earthly things like feeding, nourishing, and accommodating people. Abraham was the paragon of chesed—kindness and compassion.

The top of the ladder, which reached the heavens, epitomizes Isaac. He was that heavenly soul who was nearly sacrificed on the altar, and thus became the eternal symbol of avodahspiritual service and faithful commitment to G‑d.

Jacob, we are told, represents Torah. He is described as yoshev ohel,4 the scholar laboring “in the tent of Torah study.” Torah unites chesed and avodah, fusing two opposites, like heaven and earth.

And so, we have sulam, Jacob’s ladder, numerically equal to Sinai. The ladder, like Sinai, characterizes that which is firmly embedded in earthliness, but can reach the heavens.

Where do we see that Sinai, too, symbolizes the idea of bridging the gap between heaven and earth?

The Rebbe, in many talks over the years, addressed this concept at great length.

The process of linking heaven and earth began with the Sinai experience.

Abraham may have been the first historic Jew, but he was not the first halachic Jew.5 That only happened to Moses and his generation when they received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

That’s when our people became mandated to keep the Torah and its commandments.

While Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the generations prior to the Exodus and the Sinai experience, may have fulfilled the Torah even before it was given, it was an optional extra at that point, based on their own prophetic insight of what the Torah would teach. G‑d had not yet commanded them to keep it.

Until Sinai, heaven was G‑d’s domain, earth was humanity’s domain, and “never the twain shall meet.” As a result, the mitzvahs performed by the pre-Sinai generations did not have the capacity to transform the materials with which they were performed.

But after “G‑d descended upon Mount Sinai,”6 and the mortal Moses ascended the mountain,7 heaven and earth were no longer unbridgeable. Ever since, humans can aspire higher and can indeed change the world, sanctify the mundane, consecrate the material, and make the physical world spiritual and holy.

Thus, as the Baal Haturim writes, Sulam, the ladder, equals Sinai, the moment when heaven and earth met.

Are we doomed to live out our lives in the empty materialism of a hollow, plastic world? Is the only way to escape the crassness of the material world by fleeing to reclusive monasteries or the mountains of Tibet?

To this, the Torah says an emphatic “No!” Ever since Sinai, we have been empowered to introduce spirituality into our material circumstances. We need not escape anywhere. We must engage with our material world, deal with it head-on, and, in fact, transform it into something holy.

Here’s one simple example.

Money is surely the most material thing of all. What symbol, more than the mighty dollar, characterizes materialism? But when we give our hard-earned money to the poor and other worthy causes, we have transformed the material into something meaningful, purposeful, and yes, even holy.

That’s how we fulfill G‑d’s purpose in creating the world.

“In the beginning G‑d created heaven and earth.” 8 The very same Creator who made the heavens also made the earth and everything in it. Heaven and earth, the spiritual and the material, are not inaccessible, unreachable opposites. They are two sides of the very same coin. We should not reject the physical, nor should we succumb to its empty attractions. Rather we should use it in positive, meaningful ways, thereby elevating it to its potential as something created by G‑d for a higher purpose.

When we do, as physical and finite as we are, we can climb the ladder of G‑d and ascend the very heavens.