Parshat Vayetze – By Rabbi Dinin

If Not Now, When?


When Jacob left his home, heading towards Haran, he had a dream that most people would find incredulous. In the dream, God promises Jacob that He will protect him, and bless him with offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth. When Jacob awakens he does not doubt for a moment that his dream was a true vision of God’s promise. But if we read on in the text, it seems that Jacob does have doubts! Jacob makes a vow saying, ’??’, meaning “if” God will be with me, will guard me, give me bread and clothe me, only then would Hashem “be a God to me”.

      How is it possible that Jacob could not only doubt God, but give God a condition that He must fulfill?

       The Midrash Rabbah concludes that Jacob is not challenging God but doubting himself. He knows he deceived his father and angered his brother Esau, and perhaps, even though God will always keep His promises to the righteous, Jacob himself may not be a righteous man! Ramban sees a much simpler solution. He sifts through Tanach and finds that the word ’??’ can also mean: “when”. Jacob is not expressing doubt. He’s expressing his trust and excitement in God! Jacob is ready to go with God wherever He will lead him.
       Jacob is giving his answer to the ancient question posed by Hillel the Elder in Pirkei Avot. It is a question we can ask ourselves each day; If I am not for myself –  I know God will be for me –  and if not now, when? Jacob’s answer is, “Right Now”! Immediately he goes out (“VaYetze”) to serve God and fulfill his destiny. Then he answers the second of Hillel’s questions, Who am I? He is Israel! We are all Israel, in that defining moment, when we express the willingness to start our own personal and often times challenging journeys while still having trust that God is with us, by our side no matter what!

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