The Ramban describes how every detail of our forefather’s lives was a signpost, indicating the events that would occur to their descendants. Yaakov’s wanderings in exile, as he fled first from the wrath of his Eisav, and later from the jealousy of Lavan, foretold of the exiles that his children would suffer throughout the ages. Yet throughout the difficult epochs of exile that we have endured, Hashem has stretched His protective wings over us, rescuing us from our enemies time and time again, just as He rescued Yaakov Avinu, in fulfillment of His vow, אנכי עמך ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך “I shall be with you, to protect you wherever you may go.”
Rav Yaakov Emden writes:
When we contemplate our situation in the history of the world, we realize that we are a nation exiled, like scattered sheep. After all the thousands of years of hardship that have befallen us, there is no nation as oppressed as ours. Our enemies are numerous. With hatred and jealousy, they have raised their heads to uproot and destroy us. Even so, they have been unable to fulfill their plans. The most powerful of nations have risen against us and long ago fallen, their memory forgotten like a passing shadow, but we who cling to Hashem survive today. Despite all the torments of our exile, we have not forsaken even one letter of the written Torah, and the words of our Sages still stand strong. They have been impervious to the hand of time. What could the clever philosophers possibly say to explain this? That it is a coincidence?
By my life, I swear that this is a greater miracle than those Hashem performed for our forefathers in Egypt, in the desert and in Eretz Yisroel. The longer the Golus lasts, the more the miracle becomes obvious and Hashem’s might is revealed. Everything that we undergo today was already foreseen by the prophets, who bemoaned the terrible length of the Golus long before it began. From all their words, not one has fallen aside. He who would dispute this, his words are like smoke and the passing clouds.
The fortitude necessary to endure our exile was bequeathed to us by our
forefathers, who suffered similar hardships throughout their lives. Avraham Avinu, the founder of our nation, also tasted the hardship of exile, when he fulfilled Hashem’s command, לך לך מארצך “Go forth from your land.” He was the first to play the role of the wandering Jew, traveling from one land to another, not even knowing his destination, but trusting that Hashem would ultimately bring him אל הארץ אשר אראך “to the land that I shall show you.”
However, Avraham’s exile was very different from Yaakov’s. Avraham experienced the hardship of wandering in foreign lands, but Yaakov experienced a much harder exile, as he fled the unsheathed sword of a deadly adversary. To give him the encouragement he so desperately needed, Yaakov was granted a prophetic vision, in which Hashem assured him of his survival in exile – an assurance that would stand for his descendants throughout the generations.
ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו. והנה ה' נצב עליו ויאמר אני ה' אלקי אברהם אביך ואלקי יצחק הארץ אשר אתה שכב עליה לך אתננה ולזרעך. והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ ופרצת ימה וקדמה וצפנה ונגבה ונברכו בך כל משפחת האדמה ובזרעך. והנה אנכי עמך ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך והשבתיך אל האדמה הזאת כי לא אעזבך עד אשר אם עשיתי את אשר דברתי לך.
Yaakov dreamed, and he saw a ladder set on the ground, with its head stretching up to the Heavens, and the angels of G‑d ascended and descended it. And behold, Hashem stood over it and said, “I am Hashem, G‑d of your father Avraham, and G‑d of Yitzchak. The land on which you lie I shall give to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall break forth to the east, to the west, to the north and to the south, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through you and your descendants. I shall be with you to protect you wherever you go, and I shall bring you back to this land, for I shall not forsake you until I have fulfilled all that I have promised you.
The Ramban interprets this vision as follows:
הראהו בחלום הנבואה כי כל הנעשה בארץ נעשה על ידי המלאכים והכל בגזרת עליון עליהם, כי מלאכי אלהים אשר שלח ה' להתהלך בארץ לא יעשו קטנה או גדולה עד שובם להתיצב על אדון כל הארץ לאמר לפניו התהלכנו בארץ והנה יושבת בשלוה או מלאה חרב ודם, והוא יצוה עליהם לשוב לרדת בארץ ולעשות דברו.
והראהו כי הוא יתברך נצב על הסלם ומבטיחו ליעקב בהבטחה גדולה, להודיע שהוא לא יהיה ביד המלאכים אבל יהיה חלק ה' ויהיה עמו תמיד, כמו שאמר והנה אנכי עמך ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך, כי מעלתו גדולה משאר הצדיקים שנאמר בהם "כי מלאכיו יצוה לך לשמרך בכל דרכיך."
ועל דעת רבי אליעזר הגדול היתה זאת המראה כענין בין הבתרים לאברם, כי הראהו ממשלת ארבע מלכיות ומעלתם וירידתם, וזה טעם "מלאכי אלהים" כמו שנאמר בדניאל שר מלכות יון, ושר מלכות פרס, והבטיחו כי הוא יתעלה יהיה עמו בכל אשר ילך ביניהם וישמרנו ויצילנו מידם. אמרו הראה לו הקב"ה ארבע מלכיות מושלן ואבדן, הראהו שר מלכות בבל עולה שבעים עוקים ויורד, והראהו שר מלכות מדי עולה חמישים ושנים עוקים ויורד, והראהו שר מלכות יון עולה מאה ושמונים עוקים ויורד, והראהו שר מלכות אדום עולה ואינו יורד, אמר לו יעקב "אך אל שאול תורד", אמר לו הקב"ה אם "תגביה כנשר וגו'".
Hashem revealed to Yaakov through a prophetic dream, that everything that occurs here on earth is orchestrated through the angels by Divine decree. The angels that Hashem sends to walk the earth can perform no act, from the trivial to the momentous, until they have first returned to stand before the Lord of the world, to deliver their report, and state whether the land rests peacefully or is plagued by sword and bloodshed. G‑d then directs the angels to return to earth to fulfill His bidding.
Hashem’s appearance over the ladder represented His firm assurance that Yaakov’s fate would not be entrusted to the hands of the angels. Yaakov was Hashem’s own portion, and Hashem would always protect him personally, as it is written, “I shall be with you to protect you wherever you go.” In this respect, Yaakov was greater than other tzaddikim, of whom it is written, “I have appointed angels to protect you in all your paths.”
According to Rebbe Eliezer HaGadol, this vision paralleled Avraham’s Bris bein HaBesarim (Covenant of the Parts). Hashem showed Yaakov how the four empires would ascend to power, and ultimately crumble. The angels on the ladder were the guardian angels of the empires: Greece, Babylon, Media and Rome, as described by Daniel. Hashem assured Yaakov that He would stand by Yaakov’s side to protect him as he wandered among the nations, and rescue him from their hands.
Hashem showed him each empire’s ascent and its subsequent destruction. He showed him the guardian angel of Babylon ascend seventy notches on the ladder, and then fall. He showed him the guardian angel of Media ascend fifty-two notches and then fall. He showed him the guardian angel of Greece ascend one hundred and eighty notches and then fall. He then showed him the angel of Edom ascend higher and higher, but it did not fall. Hashem then assured him, “But in the end, he shall fall into the abyss.” Hashem then said to Eisav, “If you ascend like an eagle, [and build your nest among the stars, from there I shall hurl you down, says Hashem].”
Yaakov’s adversaries were the spiritual forebears of the empires that were destined to oppress his descendants. Each enemy threatened Yaakov with a particular form of danger, which paralleled the dangers that Bnei Yisrael were destined to endure in exile. Eisav threatened him with physical destruction, representing nations such as Nazi Germany, which waged an open war to destroy Bnei Yisrael, regardless of our level of religious observance.
The suffering Yaakov endured under Lavan’s hand was more insidious. Yaakov worked for him for twenty years, under conditions of hardship and depravation: הייתי ביום אכלני חרב וקרח בלילה ותדד שנתי מעיני – “I served you by day, when the heat of the sun consumed me. Through the freezing chill of night, I drove sleep from my eyes.”
Yet throughout it all he remained the very model of honest labor, as the Rambam writes:
כדרך שמוזהר בעה"ב שלא יגזול שכר עני ולא יעכבנו כך העני מוזהר שלא יגזול מלאכת בעה"ב ויבטל מעט בכאן ומעט בכאן ומוציא כל היום במרמה אלא חייב לדקדק על עצמו בזמן שהרי הקפידו על ברכה רביעית של ברכת המזון שלא יברך אותה, וכן חייב לעבוד בכל כחו שהרי יעקב הצדיק אמר כי בכל כחי עבדתי את אביכן, לפיכך נטל שכר זאת אף בעולם הזה שנאמר ויפרץ האיש מאד מאד.
Just as an employer is forbidden to cheat his employees, or withhold their pay; so too an employee is forbidden to cheat his employer by shirking his duties here and there, until finally the entire day is wasted in deceit. He must be punctual and diligent in his work hours, for which reason our Sages exempted him from the fourth blessing of Birkas HaMazon. He must serve his employer with all his strength, as Yaakov the tzaddik said, “With all my strength I served your father.” Hashem rewarded him in this world for his honest labor, as it is written, “And the man was very, very successful.”
Lavan prospered by Yaakov’s honest labor, but he never showed Yaakov the slightest bit of appreciation. Just the opposite, he constantly sought ways to cheat Yaakov, and deprive him of his basic rights. This foreshadowed the plight of Bnei Yisrael in lands such as Communist Russia, where their lives were spared, but their basic human rights were usurped. Jews developed science, education and trade in all the countries where we traveled, yet we were often denied the opportunity to earn the most basic livelihood.
By enduring these difficult tests, and remaining faithful to Hashem throughout them all, Yaakov instilled in our nation the strength and fortitude necessary to survive the various stages of our exile. In his merit, Hashem stands beside us at all times, to rescue us from our adversaries, in whatever guise they may appear.
"בכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותינו והקדוש ברוך הוא מצילינו מידם"
“In every generation they rise against us to destroy us, but HaKadosh Baruch Hu rescues us from their hands.”
 Bereishis 28:15
 Siddur Beis Yaakov: Sulam Beis Keil
 Bereishis 28:12-15
 Tehillim 91:11
 Daniel, chapter 10
 Yeshaya 14:15
 Ovadiah 1:4
 Bereishis 31:4
 Rambam, Hilchos Sechirus 13:6