- Jacob dreams of angels going up and down a ladder. God blesses him. Jacob names the place Bethel. (28:10-22)
- Jacob works seven years in order to marry Rachel, but Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. (29:16-25)
- Jacob marries Rachel but only after having to commit himself to seven more years of working for Laban. (29:26-30)
- Leah, Rachel, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, give birth to eleven sons and one daughter. (29:31-30:24)
- Jacob and his family leave Laban's household with great wealth. (31:1-32:3)
by Erika Schwartz
In the Torah portion, Va-Yetse, G-d says to Jacob:
"I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
What did G-d promise to Jacob?
He promised that the land on which Jacob was lying in the land of Canaan would eventually belong to Jacob and his offspring. G-d promised that Jacob's descendants would be numerous and would spread throughout the world. Jacob was promised that all the peoples of the earth would bless themselves by Jacob and his descendants.
In reality, none of these promises was fulfilled by the time Jacob died.
His descendants didn't possess the land of Canaan until the end of the Exodus, long after Jacob and his immediate descendants were gone. Also, when Jacob died, his family was still living in Egypt, a far cry from inhabiting every corner of the world. Certainly the people of Egypt were blessing themselves by Jacob's son, Joseph, for having saved them from the worldwide famine. But that, too, is a far cry from "all the peoples of the earth".
For me, this begs the question of how literally should we take the stories of the Bible and, in particular, how literally should we take the word of G-d as related? For decades I believed that all of G-d's promises to "be with" or "protect" His children were fairy tales. That G-d had long ago abandoned us.
But let's go back to the story of Jacob. At some point in the story, G-d changes Jacob's name to Israel. Although the two names are used interchangeably in the Bible for the rest of Jacob's life, it's certainly important (and easy) to note that Jacob's other name, Israel, is what his descendants have been called to this day. We are and always will be Israelites.
So, were G-d's promises just to Jacob? Or were God's promises to us as a People?
There is much in our history to lead us to believe that we were long ago abandoned by G-d . . . left to the vagaries of a human race endowed with "free will". It's easy for us to see ourselves as the most persecuted people on earth, faced with near annihilation time after time throughout history. That was certainly my world view for decades and even right up to the point at which I began to write this D'var Torah. When I chose this passage to be the topic of my essay, my intent was to discuss how G-d had abandoned us and not fulfilled His promises.
But all of a sudden another thought began to seep in and I decided to give the seed the opportunity to germinate. The thought led me to consider the fate of other people throughout the world, people who have lived in places where, for generation upon generation, their lives have been hell... people who now live in countries where countless millions have been slaughtered... tens of millions. For many of these societies there is little chance of recovery. For many of these people there is no wherewithal to regroup and rise again. Their people are being decimated, their religions are disappearing from the face of the earth. Eventually history will forget that they ever existed.
Compare this with the history of the Jewish people... the history of the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob.
Because G-d did endow humans with free will, we have indeed been the target of annihilation throughout our history. Because the Holocaust is a recent, open wound, it's easy for many of us to believe that our people have been abandoned by G-d. But consider the reality!
Not only have we survived every historical attempt to make us extinct, many of those who sought our extinction are gone from the face of the earth. Not only have we always re-emerged as a force for good often very shortly after suffering such tremendous loss. But, in addition to all that, consider that G-d continues to show us time after time that He has not abandoned us. Consider the miracles by which Israel has fought off her enemies from the moment of her birth. For me, that is one of the greatest miracles of modern times. You have only to study the circumstances of Israel's repeated military victories and the lack of resources that Israel had at the beginning to fully appreciate the magnitude of the miracle.
And, for some of us fortunate ones, G-d has granted us the gift of being able to see our personal miracles every day. So, although I set out to write this D'var Torah on why I believe that G-d no longer exists in the lives of the Jewish people, I've come to see that we have every reason to believe that he most certainly does protect us to this very day.