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After G-d's first appearance to Jacob on his journey towards Laban's household…
Jacob took a vow, saying, "If G-d will be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going, will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father's house and G-d [Hashem] will be a G-d [Elokim] to me - then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall be come a house of G-d" (28:20-22).
Jacob's vow is his response to G-d the first time He ever spoke to him. G-d told him that He would give the Land to him and his numerous children. 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). Jacob's requests within his vow, however, were modest. He was not making conditions with G-d. He wanted only the bare essentials. Just bread to eat, clothes, to wear and a safe passage with His guidance. As the Radak explains, righteous people ask only for what they need, and no more.
The Kli Yakar suggests that Jacob's asking for bread to eat and clothes to wear was through concern about having too much, not through concern about not having enough. His prayer was that G-d would supply him according to his needs, and no more. As Hillel was to put it: "More wealth, more worries" (Avot 2:7). The Kli Yakar explains that having more wealth would put him into a position whereby he might find himself compromising his personal integrity. He might not be able to 'return in peace' to his 'father's house' (28:21), at peace with himself without a guilty conscience.
In explaining this point, the Torah records at length that all the Avot were wealthy people. Though they lived a pastoral nomadic lifestyle, they tended to camp in the same vicinity for a long time, such as in Hebron and Beer Sheba. The wealthy depend on local business connections, and their continued wealth depends on others relying on their being in the same place when needed to trade. The Avot would have traded their cattle, sheep, and goats for grains and fruits. Thus Jacob's fear was not being able to return to his father's house. His business commitments would prevent him from responding to Rebecca's assurance that she would 'send and bring' him 'from there' (27:45).
G-d's implied response was that He knew better than Jacob what his needs really were. In Jacob's case, it could mean "more wealth, more influence". As the parasha emphasizes, Jacob became "exceedingly wealthy" (30:43), but still managed to set off home when G-d called on him to do so, and he was able to claim that he was uninfluenced by the negative influences of Laban's household (32:5, Rashi).
Thus G-d heard Jacob's prayer, but answered it with: "I will make you that wealthy man that you did not want to be because your position in the Creation requires it". And in seeing the bigger picture, Jacob indeed fulfilled his vow on his return by setting up a monument to be a place of worship at the same place.
G-d does not always answer our tefillot in the way we want. With hindsight, we can often see the bigger picture and realize that what was asked for was not the right thing.
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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