The Ladder of Life

Shalom Aleichem!
This morning I met with a young student, ostensibly to learn Torah together. Upon his arrival, coffee in hand, he says, “Can we talk?”
“Of course.”
“Okay, it’s just important that you know where I’m coming from. You see…”
He told me that before coming to see me this morning, he mentioned it to a close friend, who knows of his struggles. His friend said, “The rabbi is Chabad? Then you have to speak to him. Tell him what’s on your mind!”
This student went on to share personal and painful details of his life. As a result, he feels isolated from Judaism. Yet for some reason, he still feels a desire to connect. Certain mitzvot (commandments), such as Tefillin, resonate with him; others — don’t.
I think that he needed someone who would listen, encourage him, and not judge him.
Amongst other words, I offered him the following story:
In the 1960s, a group of secular college students came to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Amongst many questions on faith, science, and Judaism, one student posed the following question:
“We are not religious Jews. We don’t keep the Sabbath or follow the Kosher dietary laws. Tell me, Rebbe: Are we good Jews?
The Rebbe responded with the famous story of Jacob’s dream.
“Jacob lay down and had a dream. He saw a ladder; there were angels descending, and there were angels ascending. Some are at the top of the ladder, while others are at the bottom. Each rung of the ladder represents a mitzvah (commandment). You see, some people are born into privileged families; they are at the top of the ladder, so to speak. Yet they may be descending. Others are born all the way at the bottom, but have climbed higher, if even only by one rung.
“So you tell me,” the Rebbe concluded, “Who is a better Jew? One who started ‘at the top,’ yet has taken a step down, or one who began ‘at the bottom,’ but is slowly but steadily ascending the ladder of life?”
Friends, life ain’t black and white!
Who is better: the one at the top or the one at the bottom? The answer is that it depends which direction you’re going! Life is not as much about the family you were born into and the privileges you had, but what you do with what you have, and which direction you are headed in the journey of life.
L’chaim and have a fantastic Shabbos!