Parashat Vayeitzei begins with the story of Yaakov’s journey from Canaan to Charan, during which he dreamt his famous dream of the ladder extending to the heavens, and received a prophecy. God promised Yaakov, among other things, that He would protect him throughout his sojourn and bring him back to his homeland, adding, “for I will not abandon you until I do that which I spoke to you” (28:15).
This promise might, at first glance, sound peculiar, as God seems to say that once He fulfills His promise of protecting Yaakov and bringing him back to Canaan, He would then “abandon” him. After all, God promised not to abandon Yaakov “until I do that which I spoke to you,” implying that afterward, he might.
The commentators resolved this difficulty in several different ways. The Rashbam explains that God refers here to the special protection that is needed during travel, assuring Yaakov that He would provide this protection throughout his journey, until he returns back home. In a generally similar vein, Chizkuni explains that this proclamation refers to God’s promise to bring Yaakov back to his homeland. God reinforces this promise by pledging not to “abandon” him until he returns to Canaan. The Radak takes a different approach, suggesting that God speaks in this phrase of all the promises He had made to Yaakov in this prophetic vision, which include the promise of a large nation that would descend from him and would be given the Land of Israel. And thus God assures Yaakov that He would not abandon him “until I do that which I spoke to you” – meaning, forever, because the promises He made were about an eternal nation that would descend from him.
Netziv, in Ha’ameik Davar, explains that God did, in fact, put a limit on His promise to accompany Yaakov. He guaranteed to accompany Yaakov along his journey and back to his homeland, but left open the possibility that he or his descendants might later be again forced into exile, which of course ended up happening, on several occasions.
An especially novel interpretation to this verse is cited in the name of Chatam Sofer. He suggested reading the word “ad” (“until”) in this verse to mean “before,” referring to the period “until” – that is, prior to – the fulfillment of His promise. God assured Yaakov that even before the promises were fulfilled, even during his period of hardship and travails, he would not be alone, because God would be assisting him. Chatam Sofer explained that when we find ourselves in a situation of crisis or difficulty, even as we pray, yearn and wait for God’s assistance, we must feel try to feel comforted by the faith that God accompanies us even amid the hardship. God assured Yaakov – and, by extension, all his descendants – that even before “I do that which I spoke to you,” before we receive the assistance which we long for, we are being assisted and supported by our loving Father in heaven, who never abandons us under any circumstances.