Yaakov, having run away from danger, is heading to his future and to his marriage. On the way, he dreams a dream, one in which G-d reassures him that all will be well in the end, for him and for his children. Then…
Passuk Chaf: “and Yaakov vowed a vow saying, if Hashem will be with me, and will watch me on this way that I am going, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear…” Passuk Chaf Alef: “…and I will return in peace to the house of my father, and Hashem will be for me an Elokim.”
We should have a problem with these few Pesukim [verses]. Hashem just promised Yaakov He would watch over him. Why is Yaakov then asking for that which he was just promised? Also, what does it mean, if G-d does X, then I will be good!? Does that mean if Hashem doesn’t give Yaakov what he wants, then “deal’s off” and Yaakov will not accept Hashem as His Elokim? We have to really try to understand what is going on in these two Pesukim.
Midrash: he was not making a deal with Hashem – he was making a vow to keep himself on the Derech [righteous path] and out of danger. He is saying, not IF Hashem fulfills His promise, but rather WHEN Hashem does so, then he will do something for Hashem. So let us say a person is in danger, then we can learn from Yaakov and say, When Hashem saves me from the pirates who captured me, I will give $200 to Tzedakah. That is what Yaakov was doing here – he realized the danger he was going to encounter and made a promise that when he was out of danger, he would do something spiritual as thanks for being saved.
Radak points out that Tzadikim ask for things that are necessity, and not for luxuries. Yaakov asks for food to eat (not steak, but bread) and clothing to wear and good health. He doesn’t ask for vacations, jewelry and Lexus cars. Not too much, not too little, but hopefully somewhere in the middle, is where we want our life to be. For either end of the spectrum could cause strain on our holding steady in connection with G-d.
RASHI points out that B’Shalom should be read “Shalaym” – that peace is for those who don’t do sin – and Yaakov was actually praying here that he shouldn’t be influenced by Lavan, that he should return Shalaym, as whole in good deeds as when he left Eretz Yisroel.
According to other Meforshim, what we have to see in this Passuk is a Tefillah – prayer – that Yaakov not get turned away from G-d. We know Hashem promised Yaakov, as he was now, a Tzaddik [righteous person], to watch over him. But what would happen if Yaakov would learn from Lavan’s evil ways – that promise of watching him would no longer be valid since Yaakov would not be the same Tzaddik anymore. So what Yaakov is davening is that Hashem protect him from circumstances which might make folks sin.
He asks for the necessities – Yaakov is scared that if he doesn’t have the bare food minimum he will feel like G-d abandoned him and he will go off the Derech, so he asks Hashem, please, make sure I always have at least food and clothing for I don’t want to become bitter. Then he asks for “shmira b’derech” that Hashem allow him to continue this path of becoming a good person. Many times we want to be good and begin to start our journey to Torah observance and then we get all kinds of obstacles in our way – like when we decide to keep a schedule of learning but then life gets hectic and we are pressured and… – so we have to daven that Hashem “watch us on our way” help us stick to our journey of goodness. Then, Yaakov asks for “shalom” and we are told he asks for good health – again, sickness can make a person bitter, so Yaakov davens for good health. Last, he asks “Hashem to be for him an Elokim” When the Torah uses the word for G-d which is the four letter name it indicates middas HaRachamim which is the Attribute of Mercy and the word Elokim indicates middas Hadin which is is the Attribue of Strict Justice. What Yaakov is asking is that when G-d has to be an Elokim, when judgment is decreed, we want that it should be with the Middah of Rachamim – that G-d should always mix mercy with the Din, because if we got judged with pure Din we would not be able to survive.
That is what these two Pessukim are about, a prayer Yaakov formulated asking Hashem to give him the circumstances which make it easier to have a close connection to Hashem.
Many years ago, on one of the coldest, dismal, just-not-happening days, I trudged through the streets of Queens and came up with this:
I wanted to dance a jig today / as the snow fell. / I don’t know anything / have no answers to any questions / no clear-cut directions / But whatever way, / I’m going to clutch to You / not letting anyone unclench my grip. / I’m not letting go.
As I said, it was many years ago, many problems ago. When young, you think you are strong enough to hold on no matter what. The more time passes, the more you can see how life might batter a person’s resolve and shake the very foundation of your soul.
Recently I read a disturbing bit of history of one of the Chassidic giants in what has come to be referred to as “THE Shabbos”. What happened is unclear fully, but what is apparent from the various versions of the story is that something distressing caused the holy man to snap his connection to G-d for a brief moment one Shabbos. Suffering is a horrible place to be, and suffering, as we learn from Iyov, can make us bitter against our Creator.
Ever watch how pit-bull owners show off their dog’s tenacity and grip? I have watched some owners have their dogs bite a stick and then those owners twirled the stick. The dog gets tossed about, somersaulted, flung, but most of those dogs keep their bite strong on the stick.
We, my friends, don’t have to prove we are pit bull dogs. Yes, if challenged, we must rise to the challenge and hang on through the tough times. BUT, we ARE allowed to ask that life not get so hard that it breaks us. After all, that is what Father Yaakov had davened.
May it be G-d’s will that we always have bread to eat, clothing to wear, health and a clear, open path to secure spirituality. And in our time of age, I add, please Hashem, also heat in the winter and tuition for our children.