August 7, 2018

It’s never too early to pray (Vayetze)

Following his famous dream when en route to the house of Lavan, Yaakov makes a vow that ‘if God will be with me, if He will protect me on the journey that I am taking, if He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, if I return in peace to my father’s house, and if God will be my Lord… [then] whatever You will give me, I shall surely tithe to You’ (Bereishit 28:20-22). Though it would seem from these verses that Yaakov’s vow emphasised his physical requirements (food, clothes etc.), many of the commentaries explain that these words actually allude to his spiritual aspirations. For example, Rashi explains the phrase ‘return in peace to my father’s house’ to mean that Yaakov was asking God to return from the house of Lavan in a state of spiritual peace and without sin, and a similar spirit, Rashi explains the words ‘and if God will be my Lord’ to mean that Yaakov hoped that his children remain upright in the eyes of God and that ‘no spiritual defect be found in my offspring’. What this seems to be is a prayer that Yaakov’s children stay ‘on the derech’ and as a parent of five daughters, I too pray that my children remain upright in the eyes of God. However, what is unusual about this prayer is that – at this moment – Yaakov was not married and he was not a father to any children. In fact, his primary reason for going to Lavan’s house was not even for the purpose of marriage, but rather, as a way of escaping the threats of his brother Esav. Yet, even during this time, our Sages explains that Yaakov is thinking about his future, about his children, and about their spiritual direction. As Rabbi Mordechai Rogov writes in his ‘Ateret Mordechai’, as long as Yaakov remains unsure about the spiritual future of his descendants, and until he can be sure that no spiritual defect will be found in his offspring, he finds no satisfaction in the possibility that he will be able to physically return to his father’s home. From here we learn two important lessons. Firstly, it is never too early to pray for the spiritual welfare of your descendants, and secondly, success is measured in accordance with the spiritual impact that you and your descendants have on the world.

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