Yaakov, after his dream, made a vow (Bereshis 28,20-22). if Hashem would be with him and would protect him, he, in turn, he would dedicate himself to Hashem. Though Yaakov’s words are exactly the promise given to him earlier by Hashem (28,13-15)! Yaakov simply paraphrase the words of the promise and the word “if”:
- Hashem promised; “I will be with you,” and Yaakov said, “If Elokim will be with me…”
- Hashem promised; “I will protect you wherever you go,” and Yaakov said, “If He will protect me on this journey…”
- Hashem promised; “I will return you to this land,” and Yaakov said, “If I return in peace to my father’s house…”
It could seem as if Yaakov was doubting Hashem’s promise! Though, there’s a fundamental difference between the promise and the vow; the promise of safety was made by Hashem, while Yaakov made his vow to Elokim. The name Hashem indicates the Divine Attribute of “Mercy” and the name Elokim is the Divine Attribute of “Justice”.
The Zohar [151a] explains, Yaakov never doubted Hashem’s promise, but he was doubting his capacity to remain sin free while being with Lavan. The rationale behind his reasoning was correct; Hashem offered him protection out of His compassionate love for Avraham and Yitschak, which indicates that only if Yaakov keeps his level of being the son of Avraham and Yitschak would he deserve it. However, if he sins, and no longer deserve that level, the Divine protection will be removed. Therefore, Yaakov wanted to protect himself from harsh “Justice”, even if he sins he sould still deserve the Divine protection. In return for the unconditional protection he vowed; “Hashem [Attribute of Mercy] will then be Elokim [Attribute of Justice] for me” (28,20-21). Meaning; that upon my safe return I will serve Hashem [attribute of Compassion] in the same stricter way as if it was Elokim, implying never sinning!
Yaakov had ample opportunities to confirm that his vow was accepted. He spent 20 years by Lavan, the biggest sorcerer the world has ever known, without being harmed, despite the numerous attempts as described by the Zohar. Even when Lavan chased him after he escaped from Charan, Lavan was unable to harm him. The Pasuk says: “Elokim appeared to Lavan the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Beware of saying anything to Yaacov, good or bad.” Elokim warned Lavan
not to say any spell to Yaakov, otherwise it will be turned on him. Clearly, it’s another confirmation
that Hashem had accepted his vow. Why then, when he’s about to meet his brother Esav, which is
far less dangerous than Lavan, he was trembling. The Pasuk conveys that Yaakov was doubting that
his vow may had not been accepted. Why now after 20 years of repeated proves was he doubting?
Upon Yaakov return to Eretz Yisrael, the Pasuk relays: “Early in the morning, Lavan kissed his sons
and daughters and bade them goodbye; then Lavan left on his journey homeward. Yaakov went
on his way, and Angels of Elokim encountered him. When he saw them, Yaakov said, “This is
Elokim’s camp.” So, he named that place Machanaim”. (Bereshis 32,1-2-3)
The Zohar mentions: the word “encountered” was used in another instance, when Yaakov
“encountered the Place” in Parashas Vayeitsei. That Place, was the place of the Beth Hamikdash, the
very place where Avraham set the altar to sacrifice his son. Though, then Hashem appeared to him
only in a dream, while now Yaakov sees the appearances while awake. The reason is, since Yaakov
was single at that time, while now he is married and has succeeded in his mission and is accompanied
by the 12 tribes. The Angels were waiting for him to cross into Eretz Yisrael, in order to ask Yaakov
to bless them.
The very fact, the Angels were beseeching his blessing, Yaakov knew that Hashem held him as a
Tsadik, just as Avraham and Yitschak. He has finally merited that Hashem will also be called by his
name “G-d of Yaakov”. Why then, when the Angels told him “We have gone to your brother, Esav,
and he is coming towards you with 400 men. (B’reshit 32,7) Yaakov’s immediate reaction, as stated
in the next verse: “He was trembling!”
The Zohar explains; when Yaakov sent his messengers with the present to Esav, they also had a
message to deliver “I dwelled with Lavan the sorcerer for 20 years”. That statement shows
confidence as it’s a warning; you would not be able to withstand Lavan witchcraft for even a moment,
I did it for 20 years. Indeed, upon hearing the message, Esav started trembling, and changed his
intentions. Rather than coming belligerently, he will act as a welcoming party as fit for such an
important dignitary as Yaakov. But Yaakov’s fear undermines him and bows down 7 times before his
brother. Esav seeing this understands that Yaakov is fearful of him.
It’s striking as Hashem had just ordered him: “Return to the land of your fathers and your homeland,
and I will be with you.” (31,3) Yaakov was accomplishing a Divine order, what was he afraid of?
Avraham faced a similar challenge, but his reaction was diametrically different. Upon hearing his
nephew Lot had been imprisoned by the Four Kings, Avraham responded with courage and trust in
Hashem: “He led forth those he had trained… three hundred and eighteen in number and pursued
them till Dan” (14,14). Courageously setting off to war with the great kings, Avraham hands them a
stinging defeat. How can we explain Yaakov’s fear?
The Gemara Berachos 4a asked this very question: Rav Yaakov bar Idi answers; that Yaakov was not
afraid of Esav’s might, nor of his 400 men. His fear was rather on the spiritual and ethical plane:
perhaps he had sinned, or perhaps he did not meet the standards Hashem expected of him causing
the Divine promise to be revoked. This answer raises other questions, however. Firstly, since Yaakov
has seen over the course of the past 20 years that the promise has been fulfilled and that he has
received much Divine help and protection. What could have happened that suddenly would
jeopardize the continuation of the protection? In addition, the fear that sins may prevent the
fulfillment of a Divine promise contradicts an important Talmudic principle. The Gemara teaches:
Rav Yochanan said in the name of Rav Yosi: Every promise, for the good, that Hashem uttered, even
if it was stated conditionally, He will not revoke. (Berachos 7a) If so, the question still stands: Why
was Yaakov suddenly so afraid?
Besides, Yaakov had just fought Esav’s angel, and defeated him. Surely, Esav’s angel was much more
powerful than Esav himself. Why wasn’t that enough to prove to Yaakov that he would defeat his
The answer is: that Deception is the mother of all pitfalls! Hashem despises deceivers and thieves as
their very acts renege Hashem omnipresence. This is the very reason Hashem despised Esav’s
wickedness. The Torah says: “Distance yourself from words of falsehood.” (Devarim 23,7) The Pele
Yoetz points, this is the only sin for which the Torah warns us to “distance” ourselves.
In telling the truth we emulate our Creator regarding whom it says: “The seal of G-d is truth.”
(Shabbos 54a) The Sefer Chassidim writes that one who speaks only truth can change destiny by
decreeing something to happen—and it will (s,47). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) states: that being
careful to only speak truthfully is propitious for one to complete his years of life allotted by Hashem.
The Talmud (Sota 42a) says: that there are four groups of people that do not merit to greet the Divine
presence. One of them is liars. This punishment is measure for measure, as through lying they
demonstrated that they sought to find favor in the eyes of men and in doing so, ignored the presence
of the omniscient Almighty. Therefore, they do not merit to be in His presence. Yaakov was afraid
that when facing the very person he deceived, even though it was on the express order of his mother,
Hashem will remove his blessings. Implying, that despite having the merit of the 12 tribes and being
greeted by Angels, deception is a sure pitfall!
By Rabbi Fridmann * email@example.com * 305.985.3461
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