“And Yaakov became angry and argued with Lavan, and Yaakov answered and said, ‘what is my transgression, and what is my sin, that you ran after me? … Had not the G-d of my father, the G-d of Abraham and the Fear of Yitzchak, been with me, you would have now sent me away empty-handed. But G-d saw my distress and the work of my hands… ” [31:36, 42]
Who could not take pity on Yaakov? He was forced to flee his home, in fear for his life – with his own brother the intended murderer. He arrived penniless in the house of Lavan, who welcomed him warmly in the mistaken belief that Yaakov would possess no less than his grandfather’s servant… and then set him to work. Yaakov worked for seven years to marry Lavan’s daughters (at a time when, quite to the contrary, the bride’s father provided a dowry!), only to find himself the victim of deceit. After working a second seven years to marry his desired wife, he then finally began to work for himself. Yet Lavan first provided him with only ill and barren sheep [Rashi 30:36], and then kept changing his wages! [31:41]
But G-d saw Yaakov’s distress, and the work of his hands. And G-d helped from there.
Why was it necessary for Yaakov to mention “the work of his hands?” Because he had been honest. He hadn’t cheated. And he had never given up – he had done everything he possibly could. Our Sages tell us that Yaakov established the evening prayer, said when everything is dark. Never give up; do all you can, and pray.
Rabbi Asher Z. Rubenstein of Jerusalem told the following story:
When he was learning in the Ponevecz Yeshiva in Israel, he was a close friend of a very dedicated student of the Mashgiach, the spiritual director of the yeshiva. Following the Jewish custom to have a shomer, or guard, watch a groom immediately before his wedding, Rabbi Rubenstein served in this capacity for his friend – and thus he witnessed these events in all their details.
The wedding was to take place on Thursday night, in Israel. Wednesday night was when the Mashgiach offered his weekly “shmuez” (discourse on Jewish ethics); but the groom’s mother was scheduled to arrive on El-Al, at Ben-Gurion Airport, at the same time. The Mashgiach told the groom that “Kibud Em,” honoring his mother, must take precedence over attendence at his class.
Time for class arrived – and there sat the groom, smiling broadly. What happened? The groom said that he had always gone to class; this week, he wanted to go to class as well. He had done all he could. So he prayed.
Well, this was El Al in its early days; arriving four hours late was nothing unusual. Yet the groom had called the airline, only to discover that the plane would arrive two hours early – enough time for his mother to move through customs, and for him to drop her off before returning to class.
In the taxi, the groom’s mother said that the pilot had made a special announcement. In all his years of flying, he said, he had never had such a strong tailwind pushing them along – ensuring that they would arrive two hours early.
Never give up; do all you can, and then pray!
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.