Sunday, November 11, 2007

Parshat Vayetze 3

According to the tradition there is a gap of 14 years between the end of last week’s Torah reading, when Ya’akov leaves his parents’ home, and the beginning of this one, when he goes to Haran. The Rabbis tell us that he spent that time studying in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. Ya’akov had grown up in the house of Yitzchak, and had spent the first 63 years of his life immersed in study, as the verse states, “Ya’akov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents” (Genesis XXV; 27). Yet he realised that his was not adequate preparation before going to face Lavan, the arch enemy of the Jewish people (As the verse says, “An Aramean [Lavan] tried to destroy my father” Deuteronomy). In fact his study in this Yeshiva was so intense that he didn’t sleep a proper night’s sleep for the entire time that he was there.
So it seems strange that despite all this preparation Ya’akov makes a deal with G-d after he has the dream about the ladder. “Then Ya’akov took a vow saying, ‘If G-d will be with me, will guard me on this way... and I return in peace to my father’s house, then G-d (A-donai) will be a G-d (Elokim) to me.’” (Genesis XXVIII; 20-21). I wonder what the alternative would be? Can we deduce that had things not worked out so well Ya’akov would not have accepted G-d, despite all those years of study and preparation?
We have a tradition that all of the events that happened to the patriarchs were a foreshadowing of events that would happen later in Jewish history. This is especially true of Ya’akov, who became Israel, embodying the entire nation and all later generations. The Rabbis tell us that the four tribulations that befell Ya’akov symbolised the four exiles that the Jewish nation has experienced. Ya’akov’s encounter with Lavan represents the Babylonian exile, his dealings with Esav shows the Persian exile, the trial with Dina is the Greek exile, and his final suffering with the loss of Yosef represents the present Roman exile. Ya’akov somehow senses the importance of the events that are about to take place, and therefore his final ‘pact’ with G-d before leaving the borders of the Land of Israel define the entire future of Jewish history, and the nation’s relationship with G-d.
There are many different names for G-d that are used in the Torah. Each of them highlights a different way in which G-d interacts with, or is perceived in the world. The name A-donai always represents G-d’s attribute of mercy, whereas the name Elokim is used where G-d’s attribute of strict justice is shown. This is also the name for G-d as perceived through nature, the numerical value of the name Elokim is the same as that of Hateva, nature. This is because nature works on the principles of the survival of the fittest, and has no room for mercy. In a sense nature is the ultimate judge, because it shows no favouritism at all.
We know that the exiles are characterised by the hiding of the Divine Presence, as the verse states, “On that day I [G-d] will surely have concealed My face” (ibid. XXXI; 18). This means that it will be a period without the direct connection to G-d strengthened by open miracles and prophecy. This is a time when it will appear as if the world is running through the ‘random’ laws of nature, and G-d’s Presence will not be felt as clearly. However, we have assurances from the earlier prophets, that though there may be very difficult times for the Jewish nation, G-d will never forsake them, or abandon them. He will always ultimately provide for them, and direct world history to the events that will return us to a state of open recognition of His involvement in the world.
Ya’akov makes his preparations for exile, for the time of G-d’s apparent concealment by immersing himself totally in the world of Torah for 14 years. Only with this preparation is he able to withstand the trials and tribulations of exile. Even with all his preparations he is still unable to detect G-d’s Presence, “Surely G-d is present in this place, and I did not know” (Genesis XXVIII; 16). However he knows that G-d will never forsake him completely. Perhaps we could better translate the ‘bargain’ that Ya’akov makes with G-d not as a conditional agreement, but as a statement of fact. “G-d will be with me, and guard me... even though A-donai (the attribute of mercy, and direct involvement with history) will be Elokim (the hidden nature of G-d through miracles)to me.”

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