Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah begins with Yaakov’s meeting with Hashem before he left for Charan. The Torah presents Yaakov’s prayer for Hashem’s support, along with Hashem’s response. Yaakov prays for Hashem to be with him, to guard him on his way, to provide him bread to eat and clothes to wear, to return him home safely, and to be a God unto him. Hashem responds (Bereishis 28:15): “Behold, I am with you, I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this land – for I will not abandon you until I have done what I have spoken regarding you.” (This verse actually appears in the Torah before the verses presenting Yaakov’s request, but Bereishis Rabbah 70:4 presents an opinion stating that the prayer and the response were recorded in reverse order.)
In Bereishis Rabbah 69:6, the Midrash reports the general opinion of the Sages that Hashem granted Yaakov all his requests except for the request for sustenance (i.e., bread and clothing), and describes how the words in Hashem’s response parallel each of Yaakov’s other requests. The Midrash then reports the dissenting opinion of R. Issi, who says that Hashem granted Yaakov’s request for sustenance as well. R. Issi cites Hashem’s promise “I will not abandon you,” and interprets this promise as relating to sustenance, as it is written (Tehillim 37:25): “I was a youth, and I also have aged, and I have not seen a righteous man abandoned, and his descendants begging for bread.” The Maggid sets out to answer two questions. If Hashem did not grant Yaakov’s request for sustenance, why not? And if He did grant the request, why did He not say explicitly “I will provide you bread and clothing”?
The Maggid analyzes the Midrash as follows. Hashem employs two methods of providing a person sustenance. The first method is through direct support, by miraculous means, as if the person were a child sitting at his father’s table. The second method is through an endowment, whereby the person receives the means to procure his support “on his own” through natural effort. Initially, Avraham was supported through miraculous means. Later, in his old age, Hashem blessed him with “everything,” handing over to him the mechanism for generating blessing through natural effort, and enabling him, so to speak, to procure his sustenance on his own. Avraham passed this mechanism on to Yitzchak, and Yitzchak passed it on to Yaakov. But when Yaakov had to flee to Charan to escape Eisav, it was no longer appropriate for him to be “on his own” – rather, he would be under Hashem’s direct support, as Avraham had been previously. Thus, just before Yaakov departed, Yitzchak blessed him: “May He grant you the blessing of Avraham” – the blessing of direct Divine support. The Midrash reports that Rivkah gave Yaakov a similar blessing, and that Hashem bolstered it (Bereishis Rabbah 75:8):
His mother Rivkah also gave him a parallel blessing. … Thus she said to him (Tehillim 91:11): “He will charge his angels over you, to protect you in all your ways.” When she blessed him with these words, a Divine spirit continued (ibid. 91:15): “He will call upon Me and I will answer him. I am with him in distress. I will release him and bring him honor.”
To clarify and complete his analysis, the Maggid presents a simple parable, which explains both views in the Midrash in a single stroke. A man was sending his son on a trip to a distant town. He prepared for his son all the things he would need during the trip: clothes, utensils, and so on. He also set aside a pouch of money to give his son, to cover his travel expenses. Suddenly, he found out that the road his son would be taking was riddled with bandits. So he decided to go along with his son himself, to protect him from the threats looming on the road. As the two of them got into the wagon, the son asked his father: “Where is the pouch of money you set aside for me? You should give it to me, so I’ll be able to pay all my expenses during this trip.” The father replied: “Now that I am going along with you, you don’t need any money for your expenses anymore. Whenever any expense comes up during the trip, you can just ask me to cover it, and I’ll give you the money on the spot.”
Similarly, when Yaakov fled to Charan, Hashem decided to “go along” with him, to protect him from the threats that the trip would pose. Hence, it was fitting for Yaakov to be supported directly by Hashem, rather than “supporting himself” through a Divine endowment. Rivkah’s blessing to Yaakov, “He will charge his angels over you, to protect you in all your ways,” was meant to activate this direct Divine support. Hashem concurred, saying: “He will call upon Me and I will answer him. I am with him in distress. I will release him and bring him honor.” Therefore there was no need for Hashem to give Yaakov any endowment. Rather, whenever Yaakov had a need, he could just call upon Hashem, and Hashem would answer him – for Hashem would be right with him all time. Thus Hashem promised him: “Behold, I am with you, I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this land – for I will not abandon you until I have done what I have spoken regarding you.”
We can now explain the position of the Sages who asserted that Hashem did not grant Yaakov’s request for sustenance, by saying that there was no need to do so, since Hashem would now be caring for Yaakov directly. Similarly, taking R. Issi’s view, we can say that Hashem’s promise to keep Yaakov under His constant watch in itself included a promise to provide him sustenance, so that the request was indeed granted. Either way we look at it, the bottom line is that Hashem certainly made sure that all Yaakov’s needs were met.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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