Thursday, December 1, 2011

Vayetzei -Jacob's Deal with God-An act of gratitude?

Jacob leaves home to spend the next 20 years at the home of his Uncle Laban.At the beginning stage of his journey eastward, he encounters God's Presence in a dream assuring him of protection, a safe return to his home,and the fulfillment of the Promise that the land of Canaan will become the inheritance of his descendants, the Jewish People.
Upon awakening he utters the following pledge:"If God remains with me, if he protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear and if I return to my father's house safely, the Lord shall be my God, and this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall be God's abode and of all that you give me I will set aside a tithe for You. "(Genesis 28:20-22)
On the surface it appears as if Jacob is entering into a deal with God, attempting to bargain with Him,making his allegiance conditional on God's response! The implication appears obvious and typical of the mindset of many who find themselves in situations of danger.If you help me, I will reciprocate.The converse is also implied-if not, then our bargain is off and all that I pledge-my accepting Your Godship, my dedication of a shrine and my commitment to give back in the form of tithes-is null and void!
Another way of viewing this exchange is prompted by his perception of gratefulness toward life and his God..
We can understand Jacob's ostensible conditionality of a reciprocal response differently-he articulates his awareness of God's protection and care as conveyed to him during the night time and announces his deep sense of gratitude which elicits a response not only of verbal thanksgiving but one translated into a commitment of giving and compassion-he dedicates a place to God and commits himself to a lifetime of tzedaka-of generosity and kindness.
He recognizes that at the root of his existence both materially and spiritually resides the guiding Presence of the Holy One. Not only his food and clothing, but his very safety and survival, and a promise of a dream's fulfillment embedded in his very being, are all the result of God's compassion and goodness.
Jacob underwent a night time transformation from not knowing-
"Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it."(Gen.28:16) -to recognizing that embedded in all of life is the subtle but real presence of the divine which evokes an inner response of gratefulness and ensuing gestures of compassion and concern.
Taking with him this experience of transformative gratefulness he was able to "lift up his feet and continue on his journey into the future.(Gen.29:1)