A Spiritual Prayer
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
When Yaakov departs Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) on his journey to Lavan’s home, God appears to him in a dream. God promises Yaakov that: 1) his descendants will inherit Eretz Yisrael, 2) his descendants will be numerous, 3) he will be protected by Him on his journeys, and 4) he will be provided for by Him until his return to Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov promises God that if God will be with him, protect him on his way, give him bread and clothing, and return him in peace to his father’s home, then Yaakov will make Beit El a house of God and tithe all his possessions for God.
Our commentators find Yaakov’s response to be troubling. Why is Yaakov doubting that God will make good on His promise? Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550-1619) uses nuances in the verses to show that Yaakov was not questioning the fulfillment of God’s promise. God was promising Yaakov physical blessing, livelihood, physical protection, and a safe return to Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov, on the other hand, was asking God to protect him spiritually. He was going on an arduous journey to see his uncle Lavan, a deceitful person. Yaakov knew that his own spiritual path and practice would be challenged by Lavan as well as by other negative influences. Therefore, Yaakov prays to God asking for protection for his unique spiritual path and to return him, free of sin, to the Land of Israel. We learn from this that, although we have free will, it is critical that we ask God to help us make the right spiritual decisions.
There is one part of Yaakov’s prayer that does not seem to fit in with the idea that Yaakov was asking for spiritual protection. Yaakov says: “…and you will give me clothing to wear and bread to eat…” Rabbi Luntschitz explains that Yaakov understood that both wealth and poverty are potential threats to one’s spiritual standing. Wealth can lead a person to arrogance and opulence. Poverty can lead a person to operate in a dishonest way and to lose one’s faith. Yaakov was asking God to provide him with the bare essentials. He did not want to deal with the challenge of lacking nor the challenge of excess. He wanted just enough to sustain himself and his family. This, in and of itself, is an enlightening perspective. Let us pray that God protects us both physically and spiritually!