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Weekly D'rash Vayishlach

Life is hard! How is that for an obvious statement?! We all face difficulties of some kind. It might be obvious things like financial hardship, illness, and broken relationships. Perhaps we are facing unmet expectations and disappointments in life—the list is long. Jacob lived a difficult life. To me, Jacob is "every person." He is an example of every person who desires the right thing, but has a difficult time obtaining it and keeping it.

Many of us who embrace Yeshua have had a rough go of it. This does not necessarily mean that God is chastening you, or that you have not prayed hard enough, or that there is some sin for which you have not repented. It could be, like Jacob, that circumstances have been such that things have not gone your way. We live in a fallen world and therefore we can be affected by the darkness around us. We may not be of the world, but we live in the world (John 17:14–16).

In the Torah, we never read that Jacob suffered at the hands of Laban for any reason or fault of his own. What we do read is that he lived with Laban for 20 years, and it looked like he would be a captive of Laban forever. That is, until God instructed Jacob to leave Laban and stated that he would be with him (Gen 31:3). As Jacob returned to the land, he was fearful because he knew that a confrontation with Esau loomed on the horizon. In his fear and concern, Jacob prayed to God. Here is the prayer. It is found in Gen 32:9–12 of this week's Torah portion.

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. “For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”

This is a marvelous example of prayer when we are worried, anxious, or facing any kind of difficulty. He acknowledges his trust in God, and that he is a servant of God. He is contrite, shares his request for deliverance, and remembers the promises of God. We have no trouble asking God for help or acknowledging his promises. However, I wonder how contrite we are when we pray. Jacob says, "I am unworthy." This tells us about the heart of Jacob. He was a humble man.

Bible commentators often say that after he wrestled with the angel of the Lord, he had a change of heart. However, he prays this prayer before the wrestling match! May I suggest that this is not a change of heart. Rather, Jacob viewed himself as unworthy of the blessings of God because he was a godly man who lived in difficult circumstances his whole life. He was not perfect, but he was a man of humility. He recognized that he did not deserve the benevolence of God. He said that he was unworthy of the ‘hesed v'emet’ of God (i.e., the loyal steadfast love of God).

‘Hesed’ by itself means the benevolence of God. But when it is coupled with ‘emet’ or faithfulness, it is accentuating the aspect of benevolence that is ironclad loyalty. Jacob was saying that he was undeserving of the ironclad loyalty of God over the past 20 years that he had been living with Laban. Jacob could have complained that he had to spend 20 years in servitude and have a wife that he did not love. But he acknowledged that God had been with him the whole time and good to him. (Goodness is a very important term in the Tanakh, but that's a story for another time!) This is why he cried out to God when he had to face Esau. It was after this that he wrestled with the angel of the Lord and was given a new name. May I suggest that this is a part of the answer to the prayer.

Today, in whatever difficulty you are experiencing, think of the hesed and emet—the loyal steadfast benevolence of God—that he has shown you. Come to him with humility; and may God give you a deliverance from fear with courage, hope, and assurance, just as he gave to Jacob.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard

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