by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Vayeitzei(69)This week's sedra tells of Jacob's vicissitudes as he leaves his parents' home and lives with his uncle Lavan. On his way to Haran Jacob has the famous Ladder dream, in which G-d promised to take care of him. Jacob awakes and makes a vow. The vow has elicited much comment from the Torah commentaries. We quote it:
20) And Jacob made a vow, saying: "If G-d ('Elokim') will be with me and guard me on this path that I am going and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear.
21) And I return in peace to my father's house and Hashem will be my G-d .
22) And this stone which I have put as a monument will be a house of G-d and all that You give me, I will surely give a tenth to You."
LOOKING AT THE VOW
The vow has two parts to it: 1) If G-d keeps His promise & 2) What Jacob will do in appreciation. Our translation into English does not convey the points of confusion, because the 'vav' which connects, has several possible meanings in Hebrew. It can mean 'and' or 'or' or 'then.' With this in mind, let us examine the vow. The confusion comes at the point, which separates between what G-d does and what Jacob promises to do. Two possibilities present themselves:
1) The second half of verse 21 says: 'and Hashem will be my G-d.' If the 'vav' means 'then', it would mean "Then Hashem will be my G-d." It would be the beginning of Jacob's vow; this is what Jacob promises to do.
2) The beginning of verse 22 says: 'And this stone' etc. If it means 'then this stone...' this would be the beginning of Jacob's vow. Jacob would be promising (if G-d did guard him) to make an altar and place of worship on the spot.
Can you see a problem with the first possibility above?
A BIG PROBLEM
An Answer: The problem is Jacob would seem to be saying 'If G-d is good to me then I'll accept Him as my G-d"! Is that how it goes?? Is it a business deal? That doesn't seem right, to say the least. And when we see Rashi we understand where he is coming from:
21) And Hashem will be my G-d: Rashi: That His name shall be upon me from beginning to end - that He will not find a anyone unfit among my descendants ....
22) Then this stone: Rashi: This is how to explain the 'vav' in the word "V'ha'even" - (if You do for me,) then I also shall do this...
Rashi is clearly accepting the second possibility above as he writes on verse 22 about the 'vav'. It would seem that what prompted Rashi was the strange interpretation (possibility #1 above) that Jacob is making a deal with G-d.
A PROBLEM WITH JACOB'S VOW
But even the second possibility presents a problem. Do you see it?
An Answer: Even the second possible interpretation seems to say that Jacob will make the place where he slept, a place of worship, on the condition that G-d keeps His promise and helps Jacob. Is that right? Why should Jacob make anything dependent on G-d doing something for him? The Talmud says, if a Jew promises to give tzadaka so his sick child will recover, even if the child does not recover, the Jew is still willing to give the charity. Why should our Father Jacob do any less? Can you understand why Jacob's vow is not a tit-for-tat deal?
An Answer: To understand this, let us go back to beginning of this story. Jacob had a dream. In the dream G-d appeared to him and promised to guard him on his way to Lavan's home and all the time until Jacob returns home to Eretz Yisrael. Now Jacob makes a vow that if all G-d's promises are fulfilled then Jacob will turn the place of his dream into a place of worship to Hashem.
I would suggest the following:
G-d appeared in a dream. The question Jacob may have thought is: Was this dream a real prophecy or just a dream? The way to determine this is if G-d's promises are fulfilled and Jacob is protected then it would seem that the dream was a prophecy and G-d did really appear to him. If, on the other, Jacob was not protected, then he would realize that his dream was just a dream and not a prophecy.
With this in mind, we can understand Jacob's 'deal.' All he was saying was, if in fact, I am protected as I go on my dangerous way, then I can realize that G-d actually appeared to me in a prophecy. If I experienced a divine prophecy on this spot, then the place is a special place and I'll make it a place of worship. It is not a deal between Jacob and G-d, it is a realization and an appreciation to G-d.
A LESSON FOR OUR TIME
Jacob left Eretz Yisrael for the galut - exile. The sons of Jacob have followed in his footsteps. We have been many years in Exile. G-d promised us (Jacob's sons) that we would return to Eretz Yisrael. Was that promise a dream or a divine prophecy?
The people of Israel (and all who want to return, may) have returned to Israel! That is the best evidence that G-d's words to Jacob and to his sons in the Torah was a prophecy and not a dream! It is up to us to make the fulfillment of that dream/prophecy meaningful.
What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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