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