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Rabbis' Blog

When Life Is Good

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A young entrepreneur is late for an important business meeting. After unsuccessfully circling the congested downtown streets in search of a parking spot, our budding negotiator strikes a deal with G-d.

“If I find a parking spot with ample time to make it to this meeting, twenty percent of the profit goes to charity.” Lo and behold – a spot cleared directly in front of the skyscraper he needed to enter.

“Never mind, G-d; I found a spot.”                                                         

It is natural to improve our behavior when confronted by crisis. After all, we believe that G-d runs the world and in the basic premise of reward and punishment. When we feel the need for special divine intervention, it is indeed proper to entreat G-d that He should provide it and to raise the bar of our observance to be deserving of it.

The narrative of our forefather Jacob presents a different angle. Having survived a potentially fatal encounter with his father in law Laban, he now faces the equally dangerous threat of his brother Esau. He turns to G-d with the following prayer (Genesis 32:10-12):

"O G-d of my father Abraham and G-d of my father Isaac, the L-rd, Who said to me, 'Return to your land and to your birthplace, and I will do good to you.' I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, [and strike] a mother with children.”

On the surface, this prayer is quite puzzling. He begins with the fact that G-d had assured him that ‘I will do good to you’, i.e. protect Jacob and his family from all harm; and ends off by expressing his terror that Esau may succeed in his endeavor to harm them! Did Jacob not trust that G-d will fulfill His promise?

After mentioning G-d’s promise to protect him, Jacob describes the great kindness he had experienced. Having arrived in Charan as a penniless fugitive he was now returning to Canaan merely 20 years later as the patriarch of a large family and with much wealth. Receiving much blessing from Above indicates that G-d is holding Jacob very “close.” As such, the expectation of his divine service is far greater. The protocol of proper etiquette expected of those in the courtyard of the palace cannot be compared to that which is expected of those standing in the throne-room.

So this was Jacob’s concern: Due to his great fortune, perhaps he is not living up to G-d’s expectations of him in his newfound level of closeness to G-d. In the words of Rashi, Jacob worried that “perhaps I have been sullied with sin” and therefore no longer worthy of such divine protection.

Jacob teaches us that our behavior must improve specifically when things are good. The deal went through – increase in your generosity. Your child was offered a scholarship to their dream university – perhaps it is time to affix more mezuzos in your home. Everyone is healthy – consider koshering the kitchen.

The best way to thank G-d for the good in our lives is to acknowledge His closeness to us  by raising the bar of our Jewish observance.

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