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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayetze

The Real Deal

Rabbi Stewart WeissKislev 8 5780
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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!"
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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