This week’s Parsha, Va’eira, Exodus 6.2-9.35,i continues with Moshe attempting to convince HaShem that he has chosen the wrong guy to be the deliverer. Moshe obviously lost the argument and the back-and-forth dialogue with Pharaoh concerning Bnei Israel ensued. After the signs did not impress Pharaoh, the plagues began; first waters turned to blood for a period of seven days, then the frogs came, getting into every nook and cranny. Next were gnats, followed by flies, then a plague that fell upon the “beast of the field” – horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and flocks. After this came boils and the final plague recorded in this week’s portion, destructive hail accompanied by fire. Though Pharaoh requested relief from the hand of the LORD each time a plague fell upon Egypt, he continued to harden his heart against the request for Bnei Israel to go and worship the God who seemed to be the bane of Pharaoh’s existence and source of his troubles. 

Twice Moshe argued with HaShem and made the interesting claim about himself that he was “of uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6.12, 30). The translator notes of the NET translation of the Scriptures suggests that Moshe is making “a comparison between his speech and that which Bnei Israel perceived as unacceptable, unprepared, foreign, and of no use to God.”ii In other words, Moshe was attempting to convince HaShem that the wrong guy for the job was chosen. It has also been suggested that just as Moshe’ first attempt at bringing HaShem’s message to Bnei Israel and Pharaoh had been less than favorably received, he may well have had the same concerns as Jeremiah when he complained,

To whom can I speak and warn so they would hear? See, their ears are uncircumcised, unable to hear! The word of ADONAI has become scorn to them. They have no delight in it.

Jeremiah 6:10

So not only did Moshe think that he could not speak, but he may also have thought that neither Bnei Israel or Pharaoh would be able to hear and respond to the word of HaShem.

There may well have been a third issue that concerned Moshe. It may have been that he was not so much concerned about his ability to speak or the ability of others to hear, but rather he doubted his own worthiness to speak on behalf of HaShem. The prophet Isaiah had similar concerns when, after seeing HaShem high and lifted up, he proclaimed that his lips were unclean. 

Oy to me! For I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am dwelling among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, ADONAI-Tzva’ot!”

Isaiah 6.5

Having to speak for HaShem is surely an awesome responsibility and one that should never be taken lightly. But at the same time, when HaShem calls someone into a specific service, that person must not doubt the calling or the empowerment of the HaShem. Remember HaShem’s response when Moshe complained about his verbal abilities, “Who made man’s mouth? Or who makes a man mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, ADONAI?” (Exodus 4.11).

The second parable of Yeshua in Matthew 25 (vs. 14-30) concerns the actions of a certain man who was about to go on an extended journey and turned over his possessions to his servants expecting them to make use of said possessions while he was gone. While I acknowledge that the word talents in this parable is literally an amount of money (quite a bit actually) it could also be understood, considering this week’s portion, to be the talents or abilities invested in a person by HaShem to accomplish his will in our lives. Of the three servants in the parable, the first two used what the master had left with them and increased his holdings. The third was not so fortunate. Instead of using what he was given, the third servant hid the talent—possibly protecting it, more than likely afraid of losing it—and thus did absolutely nothing with it. The master was less than happy and was most severe with his judgment. The next parable, if it is one, (vs 31-46) records the Son of Man judging the actions of those who call themselves his servants. Concerning the ones who apparently did not exercise their abilities in serving HaShem, Yeshua states,

“Then they too will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not care for You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Amen, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’”

Matthew 25.44-45

Not all of us are Moshe standing before Pharaoh, but we all have talents and abilities that HaShem has invested in us to use within our sphere of influence. To hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a little, so I’ll put you in charge of much. Enter into your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25.21), we need to use what we have been given. The potential reward for obedience is not our goal; the goal is hearing that the Master is pleased with our actions and that he desires us to enter into his joy.

In Isaiah 66:5 it is written “Hear the word of ADONAI, you who tremble at His word…” (TLV) and “Hear the word of the LORD, you who are concerned about His word!” (JPS)iii These two different translations demonstrate that it is not only important to respect (fear) the Word of the LORD, but one must also be concerned about being obedient to it. Eventually Moshe not only feared/revered HaShem but was also concerned about the Word, and the people to whom he was sent, and was obedient to the Word. Unfortunately, it appears that Pharaoh never attained such an attitude. Doubts about our abilities to do what HaShem desires for us to do is a common trait among us all, whether we are brand new followers of Yeshua or have walked with him for decades. Consider the conversation between the man with the epileptic son and Yeshua in regard to the healing of his son.

“But if You can do anything, have compassion and help us!” (the father pleaded). “If You can’?” Yeshua said to him. “All things are possible for one who believes!” Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:22-24

I am going to step out on a limb here and suggest that it is not necessarily the doubt that troubles HaShem so much as it is allowing those doubts to stop our doing what he has called us to do. The father’s admission to Yeshua that he believed but still had seeds of doubt, was not the issue because instead allowing the doubt to germinate and blossom, he asked Yeshua to assist him in overcoming it. As we go into Shabbat and move into a new week, let’s commit together to trust HaShem, even when things appear to be beyond our abilities, knowing that when he directs us to do something he will enable and empower us to do it – just as he did for Moshe.

i Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
ii The NET Bible, Second Edition Notes (NET Notes). Nashville, Thomas Nelson, copyright ©1996, 2019 by Biblical Studies Press, electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 5.3
iii The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.

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Last night (Israel time) I watched in horror as first President Trump worked up a massive crowd of his supporters, fanning the flames of misplaced righteous indignation, and then launched that crowd at the Capital Building where the Joint Houses of Congress were meeting to confirm the duly received and recorded votes of the Electoral College. Suddenly the scene erupted into chaotic insurrection and wanton destruction of government property. According to various news services, such an action has not occurred since the US Capitol was overrun by the British in August of 1814, during the War of 1812.

During the ensuing actions, a demonstrator was shot and killed in the act of attempting to break into one of the governmental chambers. It was later confirmed that three other individuals, one female and two males, suffered separate medical emergencies resulting in their deaths. This loss of life is regrettable, and I pray that their families might receive consolation from our LORD as only he can provide.

I am sure you have all seen the news, and regardless of your position on the political spectrum, you were probably shocked by both the actions and the outcomes of the insurrection. So, instead of adding to the rhetoric, I want to encourage you to follow the exhortation that Rav Shaul commanded Timothy when he wrote, 

Therefore, first of all I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people—for kings and all who are in authority—so we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. He desires all men to be saved and come into the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-4

And then with these words from Peter as he wrote to his community in the Diaspora, 

For the LORD’s sake, submit yourselves to every human authority—whether to a king as supreme, or to governors sent by him for the punishment of those who do evil and the praise of those who do good. For this is God’s will, that you silence the ignorance of foolish men by doing good.Live as free people, but not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Rather, live as God’s slaves. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

1 Peter 2:13-17

The United States and her government, both outgoing and incoming, desperately need our prayers today and in the coming weeks during the time of transition. People, on both sides of the electoral divide, need to hear and experience words of shalom and of hope for a better future. And it just so happens that we have the words from the Father of comfort that so many need,

Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Let’s agree together to be that source of hope and healing that so many of our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are in such desperate need of today.

Shalom u’mevorach

Michael 

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In his book, Gateway to Happiness, Rabbi Pliskin writes,

The cause of much sadness and suffering for many people is not their present experiences. Rather they cause themselves pain by regretting and resenting the past or worrying about the future. 

Yeshua attempted to get this point across to his talmidim when he told them, 

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? … Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

Matthew 6:27 & 34 ii

While Yeshua specifically said “don’t worry about tomorrow” the same could be said about yesterday, no matter how far in the past “yesterday” is. Just as we can do nothing about tomorrow because it isn’t here yet, we can do nothing about our past because it is already done, and the time is gone. It has been said that among the most devastating phrases, in any language, is “if I had only…”. Looking back and regretting past actions is only profitable if first we do not dwell on the past actions and second if we allow the past actions to guide us to better actions or thoughts in our “today.” A popular quotation sums up this issue, “Remember the past, plan for the future, but live for today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come” (loosely based upon Yeshua’s teaching in Luke 12:25-26). I offer one more bit of encouragement to live for the day in the present, this time from the psalmist.

“This is the day (today) that the LORD has made—let us exult and rejoice on it.”

Psalm 118:24 iii

So why did I start with the idea of not living in the past or the future? In this week’s parasha, Vayechi, Genesis 47:28 – 50:26, after the death of Joseph’s father Jacob, we see Joseph’s brothers actually quaking in fear that Joseph would now reap vengeance upon them for their actions against him.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!”

Genesis 50:15

More than seventeen years earlier, Joseph had, at least in his own mind, settled this issue when he proclaimed to his brothers,

 “Come forward to me.” And when they came forward, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.”

Genesis 45:4-8

In Joseph’s mind and heart, the situation was finished; he held no ill will against his brothers. Unfortunately, his brothers apparently did not let go of their past actions and almost three decades after the event, they still were allowing their past to fertilize a root of fear. Using a bit of sanctified imagination, one might imagine that in the seventeen years that Jacob and his family lived in Egypt, (see Genesis 47:28) the brothers, minus Benjamin, were probably a bit restrained around Joseph, not fully trusting in his forgiveness. It is as if they were just waiting for the other shoe to fall and to suffer the wrath of their sibling patron. By holding on to their actions in the past, they did not allow themselves to fully enjoy the grace and goodness of their brother. This episode ends with Joseph once again affirming that it was HaShem who brought him (Joseph) to Egypt and that Joseph did not blame his brothers. More than this, Joseph reaffirmed that he would take care of his brothers and their children.

Most of us have times in our past when we did things wrong or made wrong choses, which in turn caused pain, strained or severed relationships, or other manner of physical loss. Or like Joseph, the actions or words of others have caused us pain, strained or severed relationships, or other manner of physical loss. Whether we are at fault or the one wronged, we still need to realize that the past is the past. The reality is that we cannot do anything about the past, except either continue to allow the past to hurt us, as Joseph’s brothers did or, like Joseph, release it to HaShem trusting that he was working and will work out all things to the good (see Romans 8:28). Making the choice to let go of the past and live in the present is not easy. Sometimes one has to make the choice daily, maybe even hourly, until the hurt and pain no longer raises it head. With this daily choice in mind, consider Yeshua’s words to his talmidim and by extension to each of us,

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

It was and is Yeshua’s desire that we have shalom, iv an attitude of being settled in our innermost being. If we allow the shalom that he provides to take root and live within us, then like the psalmist we can truly say, “This is the day that the LORD has made—(we choose to) exult and rejoice on it.”

i Zelig Pliskin. Gateway to Happiness. Monsey, NY., The Jewish Learning Exchange, 1983, p 143.
ii Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
iii Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.
iv Various nuances of the word shalom includes peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. 

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Before getting into the tidbits that I found interesting about this week’s parasha, Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27, * let me briefly recap last week’s thoughts. Remember the main point was that we do not always understand or perceive how good could possibly come from something seemingly bad. However, Joseph to whom the bad had definitely happened, interpreted reality for his brothers in just this way.

“Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” … “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.”

Genesis 45:5 & 7-8

I am going to take a little poetic license at this point as say that the reason Joseph could articulate this point so well, is that he had already worked it out for himself. He had resolved the issue and truly understood that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I am going to go a step further and remind us all that HaShem’s purposes will be worked out for the good, which may not necessarily be our own thoughts, plans and purposes. Thus, it typically works out better if we do our best to follow his plans than if we try and figure out ways to get him to follow ours.

Now on to this week’s thoughts. At the beginning of Genesis 46 Jacob sets out for Egypt with his whole family, servants, and possessions expressly to see the son that for more than ten years Jacob thought was dead. It is noteworthy that this journey begins with another divine communique. I say another because during Jacob’s life he received at least five divine communiques before this one. Consider too that each divine communique relates to Jacob’s entering or leaving the promised land. 

The first communique (Genesis 28:12-17) was given as Jacob was fleeing his homeland for Paddan-Aram in search of a wife, as well as avoiding Esau’s wrath. The communique included a promise of care and provision for Jacob during his travels. The second one (Genesis 32:1) occurred some twenty years later when Jacob returned to the land of his birth, and the third (Genesis 32:24-31), when he was making final preparations to reconnect with his brother Esau. In this communique Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. The fourth communique was short (Genesis 32:1); Jacob was to move on from Shechem back to Beth El where he had received the first communique. At Beth El Jacob received the fifth communique, the reaffirmation of the covenant promised to Abraham and Isaac as well as reaffirming his name change to Israel (Genesis 35: 9-12). Finally, we come to communique number six. HaShem states,

“Jacob! Jacob!” He answered, “Here (am I).” And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Genesis 46:2-4

It is important to note that the first and the last communiques came as Jacob was leaving the land for the diaspora, first to Paddan-Aram and then to Egypt. The first ended with HaShem’s promise to bring Jacob back to the land, “Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15). The last ended with a reciprocal promise to bring Jacob back to the land after his death, “I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:4). 

So, what is the purpose of this review of Jacob’s divine communiques? They remind us that from the beginning to the ending of Jacob’s life HaShem was there caring and providing for him. HaShem, through Moses, reiterates this promise to Jacob’s descendants after their exile in Egypt was over and they were preparing to enter the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

“Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for the LORD your God Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

In the Apostolic Writings in his closing exhortations to his readers, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews echoed these words to those who were followers of Messiah Yeshua

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So, we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6 **

Looking back over Jacob’s life and travels, it would seem that he sometimes forgot that the LORD was truly his helper. But that’s okay, if we were to look back on our own lives and travels, we would discover that there were times that we too forgot. We need to remind ourselves daily, whether we have received divine communiques like those of Jacob or not, that HaShem is with us and has promised never to leave us – even when the road seems to be rough. And when those rough times come, and they will come, we need to say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

* Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.

** Unless otherwise noted, the readings from the Brit Chadasha are from The Jewish Annotated New Testament 1st edition. Edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine. New York, Oxford University Press, 2011.

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In his book Growth Through Torah * Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, wrote, “Patience will prevent you from prematurely evaluating a situation as negative” (p 117). While this quote may seem a bit of an odd way to begin this week’s thoughts on Miketz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17, as we consider the life and times of Joseph, it won’t seem so odd.

Remember, Joseph was Rachel’s first natural born son; ten other sons had already been born to Leah and her handmaid Zilpah and to Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah (see Genesis 30:22-24). So, the stage is set, favorite wife finally gives birth to favorite son. We know about Joseph’s favorite son status from last week’s parasha, VaYeshev, which clearly states, “Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age” (Genesis 37:3) **. Unfortunately, this did not set well with Joseph’s brothers, “And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him” (Genesis 37:4). From an outsider’s point of view, this is a negative situation. Later in the narrative, while on a mission from his father, Joseph encounters his brothers. Instead of warmly receiving him, the brothers decide to throw him in a dry well (Genesis 37:24). While sharing a meal, the brothers looked up and saw a caravan of traders on their way to Egypt. Seeing a way to get rid of Joseph without killing him, Joseph’s brother sold him to the traders as a slave (Genesis 37:28). The narrative in VaYeshev tells us of Joseph being sold to Potipher and being placed in charge of Potiphar’s house and ends with Joseph being unjustly placed into prison where he stayed for more than two years. If anybody has the “right” to evaluate his own position as negative, surely Joseph did. He went from the favored son, to slavery and eventually to being unjustly placed in prison in a foreign country. How long does one need to have patience? How much perceived negativity does one have to experience before they are able to say, enough is enough?

In this week’s parasha we learn that Joseph is released from prison and almost immediately elevated to the highest position in the Egyptian government, second only to pharaoh himself. Returning to Rabbi Pliskin thoughts, he goes on to say, “There are many events in each person’s life that might appear to be negative when they first happen. But if a person were to know the entire picture of the consequences of these events, he would readily see how the Almighty planned them for good” (p 117). 

The prophet Jeremiah, prompted by the Ruach, wrote these words to inhabitants of Judah when they were about to go into Babylonian captivity,

“For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the Lord—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

The destruction of the First Temple and national exile were soon to become a painful reality, and HaShem speaks words of encouragement about the plans he has for Israel to give them a hopeful future. Centuries later, Rav Shaul would write to the Yeshua believers in Rome,  

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28 ***

In a footnote to this verse, the editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament point out that “other ancient authorities read God makes all things work together for good, or in all things God works for good.” Regardless of the reading, the bottom line is that HaShem is in control of the situations and circumstances of our lives – the ones he specifically orders as well as the ones that we cause to happen through bad choices or disobedience. Continuing with Rav Shaul’s encouragement to the Yeshua believers in Rome 

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Romans 8:29-30

Here again the editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament focus on an important aspect concerning those he foreknew stating that “Foreknew, a characterization of God’s sovereignty over the future, and not on the existence of free choice among human beings.”

This is an important observation, whether we are looking back at Joseph’s life or looking at our own, HaShem was, is and always will be sovereign and in control of the overall plan that he has for each of us. How this works is a bit of a mystery; his sovereignty does not override our choices or the choices and actions of others. However, in his foreknowledge, he knows how things need to work out to provide a good and hopeful.

I imagine that Joseph had times where he wondered if his dreams were really from HaShem or if they were from his youthful imagination (see Genesis 37:5-7 and 9). There are times in our own lives when we might fall prey to doubts and to the lies of the enemy that say we will never accomplish the things HaShem has placed in our hearts and minds. When the doubts come, we must hold on to the knowledge that HaShem knows our situations and circumstances and has our best in mind. It is incumbent upon us to remain patient, not driven by the situations and circumstances, no matter how bad they may seem, but trusting in the faithfulness and the promises of HaShem. I leave you with HaShem’s words whereby the author of the Letter to the Hebrews encouraged his readers:

“I will never leave you or forsake you.” So, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6; quoting of Deuteronomy 31:6, 8 and Psalm 118:6

* Zelig Pliskin. Growth Through Torah, Insights and Stories for the Shabbos Table. Brooklyn, Aish Hatorah Publications, 1988.

** Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.

*** Unless otherwise noted, the readings from the Brit Chadasha are from The Jewish Annotated New Testament 1st edition. Edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine. New York, Oxford University Press, 2011.

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This week’s parasha, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43*, begins with Ya’acov (Jacob) continuing his journey homeward after his twenty-year stay with his uncle/father-in-law Laban. However, his homecoming is not marked by hopes of a joyous celebration with the anticipated family reunion after two decades of absence. Instead, in his heart and mind, Ya’acov is echoing Job’s mournful cry

“For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”

Job 3:25-26

Before continuing, remember these words of HaShem about or to Ya’acov,

To Rivka as her sons struggled in her womb, “The LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

To Ya’acov after reaffirming to him the covenant HaShem made with Abraham and Isaac, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15)

To Ya’acov as the rift deepens between him and Laban and his sons, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3)

In these three passages, it is clear that (1) Ya’acov had been placed in preeminence over Esau; (2) HaShem would watch over, protect and care for Ya’acov in all of his travels – both abroad and back home; and (3) at the command of HaShem and after the twenty years of exile, it was time for Ya’acov to return home.

So, with all these promises and words of affirmation the question that comes to mind is, “Of what is Ya’acov fearful? After all, Ya’acov was familiar with the love, care, and protection of HaShem in any situation. One answer proposed by both Rabbinic and Christian commentators concerns Ya’acov’s wrestling partner during the night at the ford of the Jabbok (see Genesis 32:22-31). While the common interpretation is that Ya’acov wrestled with an angelic messenger sent by HaShem, others suggest that Ya’acov was wrestling with himself—with his own perceived shortcomings, with his feelings of being inadequate to receive the forgiveness of his brother or even with the continued blessing from HaShem.

I realize that for some this might be a stretch too far. How could Ya’acov have possibly changed his own name and then blessed himself. Ya’acov’s wrestling with himself is a hermeneutical interpretation of the situation. Before shrugging this interpretation off, consider the times we have allowed our own fears and doubts to stand in the way of our obedience to HaShem and his directions for us or of our reception of the bounty and blessing he wishes to bestow upon us. Many years later another Ya’acov (James) would warn his readers to trust in HaShem and not give way to their doubts.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  

James 1:5-6

Rav Shaul reminds his readers that we have nothing to fear except God himself,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.

Romans 8:31 & 38-39

Finally note Rav Shaul’s words to the Corinthians, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Ya’acov overcame his fears after wrestling all night near the Jabbok river; we too overcome our fears, inner or outer, through our own wrestling. We need to remember and cling to HaShem’s words and promises, because they are primarily dependent upon his character and not contingent upon our faults. He is worthy of our commitment and trust. May we continually trust in his provisions and care as we navigate life’s precarious situation. 

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2

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It is often said that Yaacov exhibited a bit of chutzpah upon awakening after his vision. I am referring to the vision Yaacov had on the evening after he fled his home in Beer Sheva for Paddan-aram. While sleeping with a rock for his pillow, Yaacov had a heavenly vision in which HaShem reaffirmed his promises made to Abraham and Isaac and had begun to be realized in Yaacov. As an extra added umph to the affirmation, HaShem made a promise to Yaacov,

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Genesis 28:15

With such a divine promise, how could Yaacov’s life go wrong? HaShem promised to be with him and to keep him, no matter where he went. Plus, at the right time HaShem would bring Yaacov back to the promised land and fulfill all that he (HaShem) had promised. Wow, what a fantastic promise! However, Yaacov characteristically seemed to allow his chutzpah to get the better of him when he made the following vow,

“If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God.”

Genesis 28:20-21

But was this really chutzpah? Let’s consider what we know about Yaacov and his personal world view. Yaacov was the grandson of Abraham, whose father was an idolator (Joshua 24:2). We also know that his mother Rivka’s (Rebekah), father was Abraham’s nephew who lived in the same area Mesopotamia most probably indicating that they were idolators as well. We also know that both Isaac and Yaacov were NOT to take wives from among the Canaanites because they were also idolators. In this type of cultural/spiritual environment, it is quite plausible that while Yaacov knew of his father’s and his grandfather’s God, he had not yet made a decision to give his full allegiance to HaShem. With this in mind, when we look at Yaacov’s response to his vision, we do not hear his oath so much as chutzpah but rather as a hesitant acceptance of the God of Abraham and Isaac. Yaacov saw the vision and heard the heavenly proclamation and pledged to see if and how things would work out in everyday life. 

Note what Yaacov asked is echoed in HaShem’s words through Moshe as Bnei Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land:

“You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. … I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot. You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink, in order that you might know that I am the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 29:1-3 & 5-6

The way HaShem cared for Bnei Israel reflects his care for Yaacov. Like Yaacov, Bnei Israel came through the trials and struggles stronger, healthier, and wealthier than when they started. Yaacov went to Paddan-aram single with few possessions and very little wealth. Twenty years later, he returned home with wives, concubines, children, and an abundance of wealth and possessions. Years later Yaacov and his family of seventy went go down to Egypt. When they left Egypt, this family unit was a large people group, well on its way to becoming a nation. They also took a significant portion of the wealth of their former Egyptian masters. 

There are a couple of things that we can take away from these observations concerning Yaacov. First, though it may be quite cliché, we shouldn’t make snap judgments, especially without knowing at least some of the background. While on one hand Yaacov’s “bargaining” with HaShem seems rather impertinent behavior according to our modern morés. However, as Rabbi Dauermann observes in this week’s Shulhan Shelanu,

Up until this time in his life, we see Jacob involved in transactional relationships, making deals, and trade-offs (as when he barters with his brother for his birthright). Parties in such relationships are concerned with how they will benefit and want to make sure they get as much as they can from the relationship.

Shulchan Shelanu, Vol. 2 Is. 50 – Vayetzei – November 28, 2020

With this in mind, it could be said that Yaacov was in a sense counting the cost of making his father’s God his own God while keeping his options open.

The second takeaway is that we always have the final choice in whether we do or do not follow HaShem. I believe that Yaacov recognized that HaShem left the choice up to him. HaShem did not demand anything from Yaacov. HaShem simply reaffirmed the patriarchal covenant with Yaacov and promised his assistance to Yaacov wherever Yaacov went. Even with the divine declaration, Yaacov always had the option as well as the ability to choose whether to follow HaShem or take another path.

Finally, and maybe most encouraging for us all, Yaacov was not a of paragon excellence. He had his faults, his choices were not always the best, and at times, his advisors gave him less than honorable advice. However, through it all, he continually turned back to the God of his fathers’ until eventually HaShem became his God by choice. Consider David’s admonition to Solomon, “If you seek Him, He will let you find Him” (1 Chronicles 28:9) or Jeremiah’s words to errant Israel, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 29:13-14). HaShem wanted Yaacov to follow him and walk in his ways, but HaShem was not going to force Yaacov to do so. Likewise, HaShem desires us to follow him and walk in his ways. Let us all choose to do so together. Then when we faulter or trip along the way, let’s quickly make the choice to return to HaShem with all of our heart. Through it all remember Yeshua’s proclamation “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2

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