Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayetzei November 8, 2013


Bresheit/Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

Jacob, our Patriarch, was a holy man. We don’t usually find holy people overly concerned with their physical well-being. Yet, in this week’s Torah portion, read at first glance, it would appear that Jacob is precisely concerned with his physical needs.

Jacob rested at ‘the place’ (Genesis 28:11) on his way to Charan. Rashi tells us that this place where Jacob rested was the holy mountain of Moriah, the future site of the Temple. While sleeping on holy ground, Jacob is shown a prophetic vision involving heavenly angels, and is told by God:

I am Hashem, God of Abraham, your father, and of Isaac. The ground on which you sleep, I will give to you and to your children. Your offspring will be as the dust of the earth, spreading out to the west, east, north and south. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves through you and your children. Behold, I am with you. I will guard you wherever you go and I will return you to this land. I will not forsake you until I have carried out what I have told you. (Genesis 28:13-15)

One would think that Jacob would be extremely inspired by this vision and sacred location. Therefore, we should find Jacob praying only for something like spiritual help and support as he faces new challenges in going away from Israel to Charan. Physical sustenance should be the last thing on his mind.

Yet in his prayers,  Jacob specifically asks for ‘bread to eat and clothes to wear’ (Genesis 28:22). Why is Jacob thinking about the mundane after such a spiritually transcending experience?

What’s more, why does Jacob feel the need to explain the function of bread and clothes? God would know that bread is ‘to eat’ and clothes are ‘to wear’.

The solution requires us to read the Torah more carefully.

Just as 2 + 2 never equals 5, we cannot accept things that do not make logical sense. It is impossible to understand that Jacob was sincerely interested in his physical well-being just after his amazing prophetic vision. It must be that in the very words that Jacob uses, we can discover a deeper meaning to his prayer.

Let’s read the phrase again. Jacob asks for ‘bread to eat and clothes to wear.’ Why does he define the function of bread and clothes? It must be that he is stating his exact intentions of using these material objects.  Jacob is saying that he only needs bread to eat. He does not need 57 kinds of potato chips or three favorite flavors of ice cream. He does not scan the supermarket aisles for the latest flavor of soda or the newest chocolate invention. He simply wants bread, and only bread, if necessary, to eat. As long as he can eat enough to continue living in order to serve God and achieve his lofty, spiritual goals, he is satisfied.

Neither is Jacob searching for the latest fashions in designer suits. He just wants some clothes to wear so that he can function in the world. Hence, ‘bread to eat’ and ‘clothes to wear’. A simple life unencumbered with a drive for luxuries.

Through this short phrase, Jacob defines his priorities of life. Appreciate food for its function – physical sustenance. Do not make food a priority in your life. Don’t spend your life running after possessions and clothing. Use and appreciate it for what it is, but don’t let it occupy an important place in your mind and in your value system.

We often take basic physical pleasure for granted as we constantly run after new and improved pleasures and luxuries. There is much to enjoy even in the simple things of life.

Most of the time, we hardly stop to even notice the blessing and the pleasurable taste of the food we are eating.  Preoccupied as we are with other things, how often do we actually finish eating our food without having focused on the pleasure God has given us through it? 

Driven as we are in our modern society by media advertising, brand names in fashion can so easily tend to overpower our way of thinking about the clothing we wear.

This week, in what appears to be a very simple prayer, our father Jacob reminds us to be grateful for the simple things.  If we have food to eat, thank God.  If we have clothes to wear, thank God.  If we have a roof over our heads, thank God.

In Tune with Torah this week = let us be quick to give thanks for all the good things in our life rather than spend time longing for what we don’t have at present.

Stop. Eat. Think. Appreciate. Thank God for His blessings. Even the ones we think are small and simple. That is the path of real holiness.

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