“And, Behold, I Am With You”

  • Rav Yoel Bin-Nun
 
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In loving memory of my parents: Shmuel Binyamin (Samuel) and Esther Rivka (Elizabeth) Lowinger
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Dedicated in memory of Szore Rivka (Agnes) Reiter-Kitay z"l,
whose yahrzeit will be on the 6th of Kislev.
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From the moment that Yaakov leaves Be'er-Sheva, the Torah tells us nothing more about Yitzchak and Rivka – not even a single word.
 
This is the deeper meaning of the midrash (Bereishit Rabba 68:7, cited by Rashi): "When a righteous man is in a city, he is its splendor, he is its glory; when he leaves, its splendor leaves, its glory leaves." This is also the answer to the well-known question: Why did the “splendor” and “glory” leave the city if Yitzchak and Rivka were still in the city? All this hangs on the explicit fact that God left the city together with Yaakov.
 
This observation requires us to stop for a moment and review the book of Bereishit, so that we can see that God never reveals Himself in two different places at the same time. God revealed Himself to the patriarchs over the course of their wanderings, each time in a different place, but always at one time in one place. Even when Avraham's servant went to Aram-Naharayim to bring a wife for Yitzchak and God answered his prayer at the well, there is no account of Avraham in Eretz Yisrael at that time.
 
The idea of "God is one, and His name is one"[1] is manifest before us in the book of Bereishit, but the patriarchs "go before Him," and He "goes with them." The various places are but stations in one long journey.
 
This having been said, one might still have expected that just the opposite would happen – namely, that the Shekhina would stay with Yitzchak and Rivka in Eretz Yisrael, and Yaakov would leave the land designated for Divine revelation, totally alone, all by himself. Indeed, Yaakov thought that this was the case. Surely, he was running away to Padan-Aram, while his brother Esav remained with his father in Eretz Yisrael.
 
 In the Torah, however, everything is reversed. God goes with Yaakov into exile, and it is precisely about those who remain in Eretz Yisrael that nothing further is said.
 
What happened to Rivka until the end of her life? Not a word is written, but it is clear that Rivka died without again seeing her beloved son Yaakov (as she herself had said: "Upon me be your curse"; Bereishit 27:13).
 
When did Yitzchak return from Be'er-Sheva (from where Yaakov set out) to Kiryat-Arba (to which Yaakov returned, Bereishit 35:27)?
 
What happened to Esav until he became the head of a troop of four hundred fighters and began to fight in Se'ir (Bereishit 32:4,7)? Scripture will once again tell us about Esav only after Yaakov returns to the land of the patriarchs.
 
Indeed, Yaakov was surprised by the very fact that God revealed Himself to him and that He revealed Himself with words similar to those spoken to his grandfather Avraham, and close to the same place where those words were spoken ("east of Bet-El"; Bereishit 13:14-15).[2] The major difference was that Avraham saw, whereas Yaakov lay down and dreamt. Avraham received the revelation during the day, while Yaakov received it at night. Avraham walked about in Eretz Yisrael, whereas Yaakov went out into exile. It is precisely here that the promise of "And, behold, I am with you" (Bereishit 28:15) is revealed as a ladder that bridges between fleeing Yaakov's heavenly dream of redemption and the concrete land to which he will return in the future.[3]
 
Avraham "east of Bet-El" (Bereishit 12:8; 13:14-17)
Yaakov in Bet-El (Bereishit 28:11-15)
And the Lord said to Avram, after Lot was separated from him:
Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward;
for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever. 
And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered.
Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for to your will I give it.
And he lighted upon the place… and lay down in that place to sleep.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 
And, behold, the Lord stood beside him, and said: 'I am the Lord, the God of Avraham your father, and the God of Yitzchak.
The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed. 
And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 
And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of. 
 
 
The promise of "to you will I give it, and to your seed"[4] was not given to Avraham in Elon Moreh or anywhere else, but only "east of Bet-El." That promise was given once again to Yaakov in the sanctified "place" of Bet-El, together with the blessing of the multiplication of his seed "as the dust of the earth," and with the mention of the four directions (in a different order) found in God's promise to Avraham only in that "place."
 
It is true that some very important formulations from God's revelations to Avraham and Yitzchak in other places are also mentioned here, such as, "I am the Lord," with which the Covenant of the Pieces opened (Bereishit 15:7), "and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed," which was included in God's first words to Avraham (Bereishit 12:1-3), and the promises of "I" for reinforcement, which were given when Avraham was afraid (in the wake of the war against the kings; Bereishit 15:1) and when Yitzchak was afraid of Avimelekh (and went to Be'er-Sheva; Bereishit 26:23-24).
 
 In this revelation to Yaakov, there is a clear gap between the first part, where the continuity from the promises made to Avraham and Yitzchak is striking, and the second part, which is unique to Yaakov. What stands out in the first part is the difference between Avraham and Yaakov. Avraham is awake and active; he is asked to lift up his eyes and see, to walk in the land "in the length of it and in the breadth of it." Yaakov, on the other hand, sees and spreads forth to the four directions in a nocturnal dream, and he goes out into exile – in the opposite direction of Avraham and Yitzchak.
 
To bridge the gap (beyond the "ladder"), comes (in the second part) the strengthening and reinforcing promise that "behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go." This is the primary difference between what was said to Yaakov based on the promises to Avraham and to Yitzchak, and the special promise that he needed when he was running away into exile. This is also the deep difference between the calm and reassuring style of "I [ani] am the Lord" and the tension and anxiety that are evident in "behold, I [anokhi] am with you" (in v. 15).
 
Biblical Hebrew uses both ani and anokhi in a variety of senses,[5] while the other ancient Semitic languages use either ana (Aramaic, Arabic) or anku (Akkadian, Canaanite, Moavite). Ani in Biblical Hebrew denotes simple declaration (as in the previous chapter: "I [ani] am your son, your firstborn Esav"; Bereishit  27:32), whereas anokhi is a broader and stronger term that is used in a place of elevated tension, anxiety, and fear (as with Yaakov in the previous chapter: "I [anokhi] am your firstborn Esav"; Bereishit 27:19). Sometimes, the term anokhi appears in a covenantal oath and in a binding declaration (as at the beginning of the Ten Commandments).
 
Indeed, from the beginning of the parasha ("And Yaakov went out"; Bereishit  28:10) until the end of the opening revelation, which has clear parallels to Avraham (in the promise "east of Bet-El"), it is easy to discern the confident, sure tone that characterizes the phrase "I" [ani], and especially the phrase "I am the Lord" in Biblical Hebrew.
 
However, from verse 15 on, "And, behold, I [anokhi] am with you," appears the tone of tension and anxiety, which characterizes the phrase anokhi in Biblical Hebrew. From that point on, Scripture describes the great fear and emotional shock that accompany the revelation, precisely at the time that Yaakov leaves the land of his ancestors, in sharp contravention to God's word to Avraham and Yitzchak.
 
As in many places, here too we find a dialogue between God and a prophet where the word anokhi serves as a key word. The classic case is the incident at the burning bush (Shemot 3), where we find several expressions that connect it to Yaakov's dream, like the sanctity of "the place." The word anokhi appears there in the first part, twice in the words of God, and two more times in Moshe's response, and in the second part, twice in the words of Moshe, two more times in the words of God, and one final decisive time: "and I [anoki] will be with your mouth." Only once is the word ani used in the account of the burning bush, in its sure and confident sense: "And I know that the king of Egypt will not give you leave to go" (Shemot 3:19).
 
The distinction between the confident style of ani and the tense and anxious style of anokhi is a useful tool for distinguishing between the different layers of a Biblical story and the doubled accounts of a revelation, no less so than the distinction between the Tetragrammaton and the name Elokim. Both the story of the revelation at the burning bush and the revelation of Va'era (Shemot 6, 2-8) recognize both the Tetragrammaton and the name Elokim. In the Va'era passage, there are also expressions that are clearly taken from the story of the covenant of circumcision (Bereishit 17), as well as those that are clearly taken from the story of the Covenant between the Pieces (Bereishit 15), which are seen by Biblical critics as emanating from two different sources. But the most prominent difference between the passages is the difference between the style of anokhi (the burning bush) and the style of ani (Va'era).
 
Such variety in meaning can be found both in uniform passages and in parallel passages that reflect different stylistic layers. Different literary strata within a single work are a recognized and well-known phenomenon, which need not lead to different sources according to pure literary standards.
 
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Yaakov was forced to run away from Esav, and he lived in Lavan's house for twenty years.[6] During those years, he worked for Lavan with all his might, dependent on the master's will and subjugated to him as a slave. Nevertheless, he also lived as a free man in the field, as he himself describes:
 
These twenty years have I been with you; your ewes and your she-goats have not cast their young, and the rams of your flocks have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not to you; I bore the loss of it; of my hand did you require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. Thus I was: in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep fled from my eyes. (Bereishit 31:38-40)
 
Yaakov adopted for himself the traits of the field and the life of the field, with all of their difficulties, without changing his basic character as a wholehearted man. For the deception that Rivka initiated against Yitzchak, Yaakov paid double, and even four or five times: "And you have changed my wages ten times" (Bereishit 31:41). Of course, the repayment reached its ultimate climax with Lavan's switching of Leah for Rachel on Yaakov's wedding night.
 
The midrash relates to Yaakov's question: "Why then have you deceived me?" (Bereishit 29:25):
 
All night, Leah conducted herself like Rachel. When morning arrived, "behold, it was Leah" (Bereishit 29:25). He said to her: O daughter of a deceiver, why did you deceive me? She said to him: And why did you deceive your father? When he said to you: "Are you my son Esav?" (Bereishit 27:14), you said to him: "I am Esav your firstborn" (Bereishit 27:19). And you say to me: "Why did you deceive me?" Did not your father say: "Your brother came with deception" (Bereishit 27:35). (Tanchuma [Buber], Vayetzei 11, p. 152)
 
But Yaakov still did not fight like Esav, so how will he receive the blessings, which he was given because he donned the garments of Esav, the garments of a fighter? Surely, Yaakov ran away from war all his life!
 
When Yaakov prepared for his encounter with Esav, according to Chazal, he prepared for three things: "For prayer, for a gift, and for war" (Kohelet Rabba 9:1). Both the Ramban and the Rashbam explain, in contrast to Rashi, that "for war" means to run away to safety:
 
This passage was written in order to inform us that the Holy One, blessed be He, saved his servant, redeeming him from one stronger than he, and sent an angel and rescued him. This further teaches us that he did not rely on his righteousness, but rather he worked for his rescue with all his might. There is also an allusion for later generations, for whatever happened to our father with Esav his brother will happen to us at all times with the descendants of Esav, and it is fitting that we follow in the path of the righteous man, that we prepare ourselves in the three ways that he prepared himself – for prayer, for a gift, and for rescue by way of war, to run away and be saved. Our Rabbis already saw this allusion from this passage, as I have mentioned. (Ramban, commentary to Bereishit 32:4)
 
The Rashbam explains why Yaakov passed all of his people across the Yabok crossing at night:
 
He intended to escape by way of a different route, and therefore he passed over the stream at night… Because he meant to run away by way of a different route so that he not encounter Esav. (Rashbam, Bereishit 32:23-25)
 
Then God forced upon him a face-to-face and solitary struggle with the mysterious "man" at the Yabok crossing. As it turned out, Yaakov did, in fact, know how to fight bravely when there was no alternative, when further delay and escape tactics were no longer possible.[7] Out of the obsequious fleeing Yaakov – who referred to himself as "your servant," who always clung to the heel – emerged at the end of the night at the Yabok crossing a fighter who fought to the end, against whom the mysterious man could not prevail (Bereishit 32:25). Even when he tried to injure his reproductive organs, he managed only to cause him a limp, and Yaakov and his seed came out whole (see Rashi and Ramban).
 
Only then did Yaakov merit the name Yisrael:  
 
Your name shall be called no more Yaakov, but Yisrael; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed. (Bereishit 32:29)
 
Yaakov the exile transformed into Yisrael, who struggles and fights with all his might, who can be injured but not defeated.
 
In contrast to the other commentators, Rashi understands that already at the beginning of the section, Yaakov meant to fight with all his strength, if left with no alternative:
 
"Then the remaining camp may escape" – In spite of him, for I will fight against him. (Rashi, Bereishit 32:9)
 
In any case, it was only when Yaakov struggled alone at the Yabok crossing that he received the name Yisrael, and only then did he fully receive Yitzchak's blessing – after he proved that he could use Esav's hands while maintaining Yaakov's voice. This is what Rashi means when he says:
 
"Your name shall no longer be called Yaakov, but Yisrael" – It shall no longer be said that the blessing came to you through supplanting and through subtlety, but rather through noble conduct and in an open manner. (Rashi, Bereishit 32:29)
 
We may conclude from this that it was not Yaakov in himself who was blessed by his father Yitzchak by way of the holy spirit, and also not Esav in himself. The figure that was blessed had the hands of Esav and the voice of Yaakov. It only entered into the world after Yaakov's twenty years in the field in the house of Lavan and out of the struggle at the Yabok crossing at the end of the night, when Yisrael emerged from Yaakov. Yitzchak's blessing rested then on Yisrael; it was he who was blessed, because he knew how to use Esav's fighting hands while preserving the voice of the wholehearted Yaakov.
 
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This is also the miracle that happened to us in our own generation. In the historic Yabok crossing,[8] at the end of the night of our terrible exile, all alone, Yisrael emerged from Yaakov, able to actualize this wondrous combination, and meriting the blessings, with integrity and with the independence of Israel.
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] Therefore, those who relied on the “ancestral tradition” and offered sacrifices at the same time in the various places where the patriarchs offered sacrifices did not actually understand what the patriarchs had in mind. This mistake is what lies at the heart of the prohibition to offer sacrifices to God "in every place that you see" (Devarim 12:14), for "the Lord will see" (= choose) – and not you.
[2] With regard to Avraham, mention is made of a mountain between Bet-El and Ai, whereas with regard to Yaakov, mention is made of Luz, but not of a mountain or of Ai.
[3] When Yaakov will return from Padan-Aram and fulfill his vow in Bet-El in Eretz Yisrael (35:1-4, 9-15), there will be no mention of a ladder, angels, or a dream.
[4] See our shiur on Parashat Lekh-Lekha.
[5] See the Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, 1967/1974), vol. 1, p. 69. I examined this issue with my revered father, Dr. Yechiel Bin-Nun.
[6] See at length in my book, Pirkei Ha-Avot Be-Sefer Bereishit, in the chapter: "Yedei Esav – Kol Yaakov."
[7] According to Chazal, this was Esav's guardian angel (Bereishit Rabba 77:3, ed. Vilna, p. 294).
[8] See A. Luz, Ma'avak Be-Nachal Yabok (Jerusalem, 5759).