Parasha Vayetze – Daily Care or Grand Designs?
Posted by Henric C. Jensen on November 20, 2007
Torah Portion: Genesis 28:10 – 32:3 Haftarah for Ashkenazim: Hosea 12:13 – 14:10 Haftarah for Sephardim: Hosea 11:7 – 12:12
Ya’akov… Last year I would have written about how horrible Ya’akov is as a character – a cheat, a fraud, a sorcerer, liar, coward, thief a great manipulator in general and someone who uses G-d for his own ends. I would have been right. But describing him as an honorable sceptic, an agnostic, and a true believer would be just as right. Ya’akov in his basic make-up is extremely human.
“If G-d does this… I will acknowledge…” Bereshit 28:20-21
Ya’akov starts his adult life with a session of bargaining with G-d.
He is running for his life – from his enraged brother whom he, just few days earlier, has cheated out of his birth-right (enthusiastically assisted by his mother) – towards the homelands of his mother, uncle and grandfather. On the way there, according to the Sages, (Sanhedrin 95b) he is surprised by an early sunset and decides to go to sleep. Dream. Ladder. Angels. G-d making a speech. Grand Designs and Spiritual Experiences.
“Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!” Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.” Bereshit 28:16-17
Interestingly enough, Ya’akov’s exclamation isn’t specific about WHAT G-d he is speaking of. He is clearly aware that “G-d” is present there. This, however doesn’t convince him. To Ya’akov grand visions, dreams and spiritual incidents are not sufficient “proof” or reasons to accept G-d’s presence in one’s life. A far more prosaic G-d is what he will put his trust in. A G-d who keeps him fed, clothed and safe is what Ya’akov is looking for. He knows that spiritual experiences cannot do that. Although he acknowledges that G-d can be and is present in visions, dreams and grand spiritual events, what he will trust in is not visions, dreams and spiritual incidents, but a G-d who will take care of him on a daily basis.
“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 — the Lord shall be my God.” Bereshit 28:20-21
Here’s the bargaining point, the matter which is more important to Ya’akov than the dream he just had – daily divine action as opposed to occasional divine revelation. He accepts the latter, but is seeking the former.
This point ask a question of us. Ya’akov, in all his complex humanity, asks US which is more important to us: Daily Divine action or Occasional Divine Revelation? What do we seek? Signs and Symbols or the Fatherly love and care expressed through having our daily needs met?
If we look closely at the story of Ya’akov we see that he gets his grand designs and spiritual experiences as a side dish to a main course of daily care. In fact when he finally accepts the G-d of his fathers as his own, he is not only fed, clothed and safe – he is fat, rich beyond belief and living safely in the midst of his large family.
A funny thing about Ya’akov is that while G-d is running on idle in the background, just making sure that events follow the plan approximately, Ya’akov is very much the maker of his own fate. He gets what he wants and needs through his own hard work, ingenuity and humility, backed by an unspecified trust that his bargain with G-d will pay off in the end. He doesn’t get fat, rich and safe by sitting on his backside waiting for grand visions, signs. He gets there through hard work and trusting a G-d he is not at all sure is his.
He puts in the legwork and lets G-d do His bit – the daily care.