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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

What Deals We Make

Posted by rabbiart on December 5, 2008

It does not take long for Yakov to back off of the statement  he makes on waking up from his dream.  You know, of complete awe and  sensing the presence of HaShem.  He wakes, and he says”this is nothing but the house of elohim and the gateway to the heavens.” The emotions wear off, and  the vow he makes only a few verses later is loaded with pre-conditions and desired outcomes, and a mood that contrasts with his waking emotions. He demands a lot of HaShem

וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב, נֶדֶר לֵאמֹר: אִם-יִהְיֶה אֱלֹהִים עִמָּדִי, וּשְׁמָרַנִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ, וְנָתַן-לִי לֶחֶם לֶאֱכֹל, וּבֶגֶד לִלְבֹּשׁ. כא: וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם, אֶל-בֵּית אָבִי; וְהָיָה יְהוָה לִי, לֵאלֹהִים. כב: וְהָאֶבֶן הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי מַצֵּבָה–יִהְיֶה, בֵּית אֱלֹהִים; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּתֶּן-לִי, עַשֵּׂר אֲעַשְּׂרֶנּוּ לָךְ

Yakov vowed a vow “If elohim will be with me,and guard me on this road I am walking, and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, and bring me back in peace to my father’s house and – in general – be an elohim to me. Then this stone, which I set up as a pillar, will be elohim’s house; I will give a tithing to you.”

What guarantees doesYakov want? Food and clothing to be sure, but mostly a guard on the way and to return in shalom – peace, wholeness, resolution. … not exactly the condition he is leaving in, with a dysfunctional family in his wake.

Why all the conditions on his commitment to the covenant?  What happened to the powerful emotions?  Even Rashi, generally in the business of praising our ancestors, has a pointed comment about Yakov’s statement.  Noting the vav as the first letter of verse 22 he comments that it is to be explained as “If You will do these things for me, I too will do this.”

According to the midrash (Breshit Rabah 70:8) , Yakov was assured of protection in response to this vow, and as soon as he received it, immediately he got walking and headed for Laban.  Not only that, but in 29:2 when Yakov sees three flocks of sheep עֶדְרֵי-צֹאן gathering at a well, this is nothing but a reference to  Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, who of course have not yet been born at this point in the story.

The midrash goes on to say that from this well, all of the descendants of Yakov came to “water” their own progeny. They must all gather together and work in concert to remove the covering from the well.  An alternate interpretation follows, saying that this is the well that produced the water for the simchat bet hasho’eivah (water festival in the Temple), which itself is a well of the divine spirit.

The midrash seems to be concerned with demonstrating to Yakov, so to speak, that HaShem fulfills promises.  It pictures Yakov “seeing future outcomes” and thereby being reassured to have faith in the promise that he received.  We have come a long way from grandfather to grandson by the third generation,.Back in the day, Avraham heard the voice regularly, and while he was not always obedient to it, he never questioned that HaShem would do what HaShem would say. His faith was strong and constant. In contrast, Yakov cannot trust the promise, and puts conditions on his commitment to it.

What is the difference between Yakov and Avraham? After the dream ended, the text tells us, Yakov awoke suddenly, and he was afraid. (See verses 16 and 17) Yakov operates out of fear.  Perhaps the fear is a product of guilt over the way he has treated his father and brother. Perhaps it is because, unlike Avraham, Yakov hears the voice only once.  Who wouldn’t be afraid?  Maybe it is a combination of both.

Whatever the reason for his fear and his pre-conditions, in the next verse Yakov picks up his feet – and he goes on his journey.

וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב, רַגְלָיו; וַיֵּלֶךְ

He lifted, did Yakov, his feet, and he went walking.

Who are we more like? Avraham, with his ability to hear the voice and receive it unconditionally? Or Yakov, who cowers in fear, makes his own pre-conditions and private deals, but in the end, after all, picks up his feet and goes?

It would be nice to be like Avraham, but to be Yakov would be mightily sufficient.

Shabbat Shalom


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