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After G-d's appearing to Jacob at Beth El through the dream with the ladder, promising that he would be him throughout his travels (28:15):
Jacob made a vow to G-d: 'If G-d will be with me, and protect me… and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I may return home in peace to my father's house, and the Almighty will be a G-d to me - then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall become a house of G-d…' (28:20-22)
Jacob's vow is his reply to G-d the first time He ever spoke to him. It was in a dream, in the framework of angels going up and down the ladder that joined Earth to Heaven. G-d told him that He would give him and his numerous children the Land… He would be 'with him, take care of him wherever he goes, bring him back to this Land, and He would not forsake him' (28:14-15).
Yet in phrasing his vow, Jacob included "If G-d will be with me and protect me… and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear". Hirsch explains that the reason Jacob included in his vow something that G-d had already promised him was that although he knew G-d would protect him, he did not know how far that protection would go. He wanted to ensure that His promise included not only the physical protection, but spiritual protection. Spiritual success, emphasizes Hirsch, is in the hands of man and his freedom of choice. Jacob was seeking G-d's help to maintain his integrity in societies very different from the ones that he had left.
In addition - as every educator knows, success is not just measured in the number of units of instruction passed on. The spiritually-very-great radiate the intangible, but deeply palpable vibe that touches everyone that comes near to them. I remember feeling that way as a small boy helping the Ponovezher Rav ztl out of the car, and as a more mature young man in the presence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztl. Those that are touched by their aura are never quite the same again.
That spiritual force is under threat when the great human being is under duress. When the Prophet Elisha was agitated over King Jehoram's hypocrisy he ordered: "Bring me a musician… as the musician played, the Hand of G-d came back on him" (Kings II 3:15). Duress may not only come from feelings of being deceived - which indeed happened to Jacob (31:36-42), and having to worry about personal needs to be taken care of.
And indeed, though Jacob was to maintain his high spiritual level in his travels despite the spiritual challenges faced, he did lament that his years were not of the same quality of his fathers. For towards the end of his life, his highly-self-critical personality explained to Pharaoh that his years were "few and bad… not reaching the lifespan of my forefathers…" (47:9). Hirsch explains this in spiritual as well as physical terms: "My life is not comparable to the lives of my fathers. They lived more, in the sense that every day of their existence was living, and that they were able to carry out their missions under cheerful conditions".
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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