July 11, 2024
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Yaakov’s reaction to God’s revelation at the beginning of Parshat Vayeitzei is rather surprising. Although God had promised to watch over him and take care of all his needs, Yaakov responds with what appears to be a selfish promise — accepting Hashem as his God, on the condition that God will take good care of him.

When considering the site of this dream, and the history of his father and grandfather, Yaakov’s vow may carry eternal significance and can help us understand the purpose of the Beit HaMikdash.

In the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak, being ’chosen’ was much more than a one-way relationship. After being chosen by God, both Avraham and Yitzchak respond by building a mizbeyach (altar) and “calling out in God’s Name.”

Rambam explains that “calling out in God’s Name” was how theAvot tried to “make a name for God” by preaching His existence and by setting an example of the highest moral behavior. This also foreshadowed the ultimate mission of God’s special nation — acting as a model to spread God’s Name to all mankind.

We would expect Yaakov to respond in a similar fashion as his father and grandfather, especially as this is the very first time that God speaks to him and promises him the Land.

When Yaakov receives this blessing from God, he indeed is immediately inspired to act in the same manner as Yitzchak and Avraham. However, his present predicament does not allow him to, for he is now running away (penniless) from his brother who wants to kill him! At this present moment, he cannot build a mizbeyach, for he has nothing to offer upon it; nor can he call out in God’s Name, for there is no one around to listen!

Because Yaakov truly understands the deeper meaning of his being chosen, he must immediately do something that reflects his present predicament. He makes a vow, to state his sincere resolve that upon his return to Eretz Canaan, he will strive to fulfill that goal.

Upon careful examination of Yaakov’s conditional promise, we notice how the if clauses in Yaakov’s vow are based on God’s revelation, while the then clause is based on what Yaakov stated in his immediate reaction to his dream that this site is worthy of becoming a “house for God” and “the gateway to Heaven.”

As these “conditions” match God’s reassurances to Yaakov that He will watch over him in exile, one could suggest that Yaakov may not be doubting God at all, nor setting any conditions.

Rather, before stating his resolution to build a House for God, he must first explain why he has to wait — for in order to be able to build this “Beit Elokim,” God will need to first keep His promise to keep him safe and healthy while in exile, as well as facilitate his return to the Promised Land.

Recall that the word “im” in Hebrew can also mean “when” (and not exclusively “if”). Hence, if we understand Yaakov’s opening statement of “im” as when, then Yaakov may simply be stating that when God fulfills His promises, then he will be in a position to build this Beit Elokim (and thus help “make a Name for God”).

If so, then Yaakov is certainly not a doubter — rather he’s an inspired dreamer!

In fact, we can learn a very important lesson from Yaakov’s actions: Just as Yaakov had great aspirations, but could not fulfill them due to his difficult predicament, so too, the people of Israel may face historical situations when they find themselves unable to fulfill their lofty goals. Nevertheless, they must remain committed to those goals, and find meaningful ways to remember them during times of peril; and hence become worthy of redemption — so that Yaakov’s resolution may indeed become a reality.


Rabbi Menachem Leibtag is an internationally acclaimed Tanach scholar and online Jewish education pioneer. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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