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The Real Deal


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Kislev 8 5780
As I write in this week’s Ask the Rabbi, deal-making is absolutely an authentic Jewish tradition, as we clearly see from Yakov’s rather bold declaration to G-d:

"If Hashem will guard me, & give me bread to eat & clothes to wear, & return me to my father’s home safely, in peace, then He will be a G-d to me." (28:20-21)

Fair enough. But hang on a second; Did Hashem not already promise that to Yakov?! Earlier He told him:

"I am Hashem, G-d of Avraham & Yitzchak; I will give the land you are lying upon to you & your offspring; I am with you, I will guard you wherever you go; I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken (28:13-15).

Is that not enough? Why does Yakov feel the need to make a more formal arrangement? Doesn’t he trust G-d?!

Some commentators try to explain that Hashem’s first promise was made in a dream, & dreams are not totally reliable (that’s why the Gemara in Brachot says that dreams are only one-sixtieth of prophecy & they always contain some exaggeration or nonsense).

But I want to suggest something else. Yakov may indeed have believed everything he heard in his famous dream, but he understood that covenants are not unilateral; they are BI-lateral, mutually-binding agreements that compel both sides to take responsibility & act. Indeed, in Jewish law, no pact or formal arrangement can be effected without a kinyan, a physical, concrete action. That is why, for example, at a wedding, the Chatan "acquires" the Kallah only when he gives her a ring of gold.

And so, not only does Yakov make his famous proposal, he acts upon it. He takes the stones that protected him & arranges them into a matzeva, a memorial, (a kind of primitive mizbeyach), & he pours oil over it to give it a status of formal holiness. He also pledges to give ma’aser, both from his income & from his produce.

Also implicit in this quid pro quo, give & take, is Yakov’s pledge to make Israel his homeland, & to return there. While, sadly, this will only happen when Yakov is brought back by his sons from Egypt for burial, he will charge his children to make Israel their ultimate & lasting home.

Covenants, if they are to truly last & thrive, must not only be about what we give to others, but also what we gain for ourselves. Yes, Yakov will receive food & shelter, & he will also inherit the Land of Israel, the choicest of all the world’s real estate. But even more importantly, a spiritual relationship will be forged between Hashem & the Jewish People forever. It’s a partnership that we renew every day of our lives: "We’ll be Your people, if You’ll be our G-d."

And that, folks, is the "REAL deal!"
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