Shabbos Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s sojourn in Charan. As Yaakov set out for Charan, he made a vow, saying (Bereishis 28:20-22): “If God will be with me, and guard me on this path on which I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be unto me as a God. Then this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God, and whatever You give me I will repeatedly tithe to You.” The Maggid remarks that Yaakov’s statement here is ambiguous: It is unclear what he meant in stipulating that “Hashem will be unto me as a God,” and in saying that “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God.”
Rashi noticed these difficulties, and offered his explanations. Regarding the stipulation that “Hashem will be unto me as a God,” Rashi’s interpretation is that Yaakov was asking Hashem to arrange for His Name to be associated with him from beginning to end, in the sense that none of his progeny would develop a spiritual blemish that would render him unfit for Hashem’s Name to be associated with him. And regarding the statement “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God,” Rashi’s interpretation, following Targum Onkelos, is that Yaakov was promising to worship Hashem at the site of the stone upon his return to the Land of Israel, as he indeed ultimately did (Bereishis 35:1-7).
The Maggid offers another interpretation of Yaakov’s statement, based on the following rendering:
If God will be with me, and guard me on this path on which I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house. It will then be that Hashem will be unto me as a God, and this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God, and whatever You give me I will repeatedly tithe to You.
The Maggid thus views the stipulation that “Hashem will be unto me as a God” not as part of Yaakov’s request to Hashem, but rather as part of what he vowed to do if the request were fulfilled. He sets set out to explain exactly what this part of the vow entailed.
He builds on two Midrashim concerning Yaakov’s statement. One Midrash reads as follows (Bereishis Rabbah 70:6):
Hashem took the words of the forefathers and made these words the key to the redemption of their descendants. Said Hashem to Yaakov: “You said, ‘It will then be (והיה) that Hashem will be unto me as a God.’ By your life, all the kindnesses, blessings, and consolations that I will provide your descendants, I will announce using none other than the expression that you used: ‘it will then be.’” It is thus written (Zechariah 14:8): “It will then be on that day, that spring waters shall flow forth from Yerushalayim ….” And similarly (Yeshayah 11:11): “It will then be on that day, that Hashem will extend his hand a second time to acquire the remnant of His people ….” And similarly (Yoel 4:18): “It will then be on that day, that the mountains will drip with wine ….” And similarly (Yeshayah 27:13): “It will then be on that day, that the great shofar will be sounded, ….”
A second Midrash, in Bereishis Rabbah 70:6, teaches that Yaakov’s requests conveyed – by way of allusion – a plea that Hashem guard him from evil speech, illicit relations, murder, and idolatry. We see from this teaching that Yaakov’s main fear, as he set out for Charan, was that the wicked Lavan might influence him to turn away from the path of truth and good to the path of falsehood and evil. He therefore pleaded with Hashem to stay at his side and keep him from straying, and he hoped that Hashem would do so. At the same, he realized that his being under Lavan’s dominion would unavoidably prevent him from discharging his duties to Hashem in full measure, for a person cannot fully serve two masters at the same time. He therefore vowed to Hashem that if He would return him to his father’s house in peace, safe and free, he would then give Him his due – he would serve Him with extra diligence, to make up for the deficiencies in his service during his time in Lavan’s house. He communicated this pledge by saying, “It will then be (והיה) that Hashem will be unto me as a God.” The word והיה contains a Biblical conversive vav, which converts the past tense verb היהit was – to future tense: it will be. It hints at something being transferred to the future. Yaakov used this term to express a vow to remit his unfulfilled obligations to Hashem in the future, upon returning from his journey.
Correspondingly, Hashem promised Yaakov to act similarly toward his descendants – the blessings He is withholding from us at present He will remit to us in the end of days. This portion of blessing will be added onto the portion of blessing He set aside to convey to us in the end of days, so that we will receive a double portion of blessing. In this vein, Yeshayah declares (ibid. 61:7): “In place of your double shame, and the disgrace they bewailed as their portion – therefore they shall inherit a double portion in their land, and eternal gladness shall be theirs.” Similarly, it is written (Yoel 2:25-26): “I will repay you for the years that the [locusts] consumed. And you shall eat well, to satiation, and you shall praise the Name of Hashem your God Who has done wondrously for you – and My people shall be eternally free of shame.” Hashem will grant us blessing that is so wondrously abundant that it will compensate for all the deprivation we suffered throughout history, and retrospectively erase all the shame we felt over the course of all time. The first Midrash expresses this idea. It is to reflect the foregoing principle of restitution that all the kindnesses, blessings, and consolations Hashem conveyed to us were announced using the term והיהit will then be – a term that represents a transfer from the past to the future. As the Maggid explains in his commentary on Bereishis 1:3, the Midrash is teaching that the bounty that was fit to be delivered now will instead be delivered later. Hashem’s promise to Yaakov mirrors Yaakov’s promise to Him. This is what the Midrash means when it says that Hashem took the words of the forefathers and made these words the key to the redemption of their descendants.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.