Could there be any better guarantee for success than a promise
directly from Hashem? Undoubtedly not. If you are fortunate enough to
get such a promise, you can “take it straight to the bank” - and you don’t
have to wait for it to clear! But strangely enough, that is not what
happens in this week’s parshah.
After he leaves his father’s house, Jacob has his celebrated dream
in which he has a prophetic vision of a ladder reaching up to the sky.
Hashem appears to him and tells him, “Behold, I am with you, and I
shall protect you wherever you go, and I shall return you to this land.”
The promise is explicit. And yet, when Jacob awakes he asks Hashem
to provide him with “bread to eat and clothes to wear” and that he return
to his “father’s house in peace.”
Why did Jacob find it necessary to make these requests after
Hashem had just promised to protect him and return him in safety?
Doesn’t Hashem’s protection include the basic necessities of life, such
as food and clothing? Furthermore, what did Jacob mean by “bread to
eat” and “clothes to wear”? For what other purpose could the food and
clothes have been used?
To answer these questions, we must first consider the
overwhelming concerns that occupied Jacob’s mind at this critical time
in his life. Jacob was leaving his father’s house because his life was
threatened by Esau. At the same time, however, he was exposing
himself to a different kind of threat. His father’s house was a secluded
island of spirituality, far removed from the bustle and temptations of the
secular world. In this environment, Jacob had flourished and grown to
be a worthy successor to Abraham and Isaac.
But now he was going to the house of Laban, where he would
come into close contact with deceit, temptation and greed. How would
he be affected? Would he be able to maintain the high level of personal
excellence he had achieved in the cocoon of his father’s house? Would
he become caught up in the pursuit of riches? Would he exchange the
accumulation of wisdom for the accumulation of wealth?
This is what Jacob feared, and this was behind his request to
Hashem. He prayed that in his encounter with materialism he should
never lose sight of the true purpose of the material world. Bread is for
eating, and clothes are for wearing. They are not to be valued for
themselves and accumulated and hoarded until they become the very
purpose of life. Jacob prayed that he would remain focused on the true
values of life. He prayed that he would return to his father’s house “at
peace” with himself, protected physically but also complete spiritually.
He prayed that the Jacob who returned would not be a different Jacob
from the one who had left.
A wealthy man from a distant land once came to visit a venerated
sage. The sage’s house was a simple, dilapidated hut. The interior was
even shoddier. The sage was sitting at a table made of rough-hewn
logs. None of the chairs matched each other, and the tablecloth was
The sage greeted him kindly and pointed to a chair. “Please sit
The wealthy visitor gingerly tested the chair and sat down. He
seemed surprised that it did not collapse under his weight.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “How can a great and famous person
like you have furniture like this? Why don’t you have real furniture?”
The sage smiled. “Tell me, my good friend, do you have good
“Of course, I do. It’s actually quite elegant - and solid like a rock.”
“I see. And where is this furniture? Do you have it with you?”
“With me? You must be joking! Don’t you know that I’m traveling?
You don’t take furniture along when you’re only passing through!”
“You certainly don’t,” said the sage. “Well, you see, I am also only
passing through. I’m going to be here in this world for a limited time
only. Just like you, I don’t need furniture when I’m passing through.”
We are all passing through this world, on our way to a far better
place. Like our forefather Jacob, we should not allow ourselves to be
taken in by the illusions of materialism. We should always remember
that “bread is for eating and clothes are for wearing,” If we are fortunate
enough to be blessed with affluence, we should not view the
accumulation of wealth as an end in itself. Rather, we should use the
freedom and expansiveness that wealth provides as a means to achieve
continuous personal growth. In this way, we can enjoy material
satisfaction in this world while we accumulate spiritual wealth for the
continuation of our journey toward eternal life.