SALT - Thursday, Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5777 - December 1, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Toldot tells of how Yaakov disguised as his brother, Esav, in order to receive the blessing that Yitzchak sought to confer upon the older twin.  Yitzchak had instructed Esav to hunt game and prepare meat which he would then bring to Yitzchak so he could receive his blessings.  As Esav was out hunting, Rivka had Yaakov bring her goats from the family’s herd, and she prepared meat for Yaakov to bring to Yitzchak, disguised as Esav.  When Yaakov arrived, Yitzchak – who assumed the person standing before him was Esav – naturally wondered how he managed to hunt and prepare meat so rapidly.  Yaakov replied, “Ki hikra Hashem Elokekha lefanai” – “Because the Lord your God brought it before me” (27:20).  In other words, he attributed his speed to God, who enabled him to catch game without much time or effort.

            The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 65:19) comments that Yaakov also noted a precedent for such divine intervention.  According to one view cited by the Midrash, Yaakov said to his father, “If for your sacrifice the Almighty made it available to you…then for your food, all the more so!”  The Midrash refers here to the story of akeidat Yitzchak, when, after God instructed Avraham not to sacrifice his son, Avraham immediately saw a ram that was trapped by its horns in the thicket of trees.  Avraham easily captured the ram and offered it as a sacrifice.  Yaakov thus told Yitzchak that if God made his sacrifice available without requiring much effort, then certainly he would provide him with the meal he wanted without requiring much effort.

            Intuitively, we might have assumed just the opposite – that God is more likely to make it easy for us to obtain our “sacrifice,” the materials we need to serve Him, than to make it easy for us to obtain our physical sustenance.  After all, since our religious obligations are to be the central component and ultimate goal of life, it would seem that He should provide us with more help for our religious duties than for our mundane needs.  The Midrash, however, teaches us that to the contrary, we are more likely to receive God’s assistance when it comes to our material needs than with regard to our spiritual endeavors.  And thus Yaakov noted that if God made an animal readily available for a sacrifice, He would certainly make an animal readily available for the meal that Yitzchak desired.  The reason is because God specifically wants us to exert work and effort in fulfilling our religious duties.  Fulfilling His will is meant to be difficult and to require a great deal of challenges and hard work.  And thus while we can and should ask for His assistance, we also should never expect spiritual achievement to come easily.  Chazal here teach that we are more likely to receive special divine assistance in the pursuit of a livelihood than we are in the pursuit of excellence in avodat Hashem, as the latter is meant to be obtained through lifelong struggle and efforts, and by constantly working to overcome difficult obstacles.