Friday, November 23, 2012

Torah thoughts on Parashat Vayetze

Our ancestor Jacob didn't feel much gratitude in the Torah portion that we read on this holiday weekend (Vayetze, Genesis 28:10-32:3).  After he and his mother Rebecca deceived his father Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau, and therefore the legitimate recipient of Isaac's spiritual blessing, he was forced to run away to escape Esau's wrath, once his elder brother realized what had occurred.  His mother sent him to her family in Haran, but the sheltered Jacob was on his own, and Haran was more than a day's journey away.  Forced to stop for the night, he took up a stone for a pillow, and had a remarkable dream.  He saw a ladder from earth to heaven, with angels going up and down on it.  And God stood beside him and offered him reassurance, saying that He would be with Jacob, and protect him, and that the land would be for him and his many descendants.  You would think that Jacob would be grateful for this extraordinary dream and its message.  However, only five verses later, he makes a vow that is really more of a deal with God than a vow, "If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father's house - then the Lord shall be my God."  That doesn't seem particularly thankful for what God has promised him, nor particularly trustful.  Or, is Jacob just asking for what he needs - food, clothing and safety - to be able to continue living, and be God's faithful servant?  Jewish prayer sometimes reflects our needs.  The morning prayer, Asher Yatzar, thanks God for the proper operation of our bodies, and acknowledges that without the proper functioning of our organs, we would not be able to stand before God and offer praise.  Psalm 115 reads, "the dead cannot praise the Lord...but we will bless the Lord now and forever".  Knowing the frailty of the human condition, perhaps we feel - rightly or not - that we need to remind God of it when we are feeling particularly vulnerable.

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