Parshat HaShavuah - Vayeitzei
By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
After G-d’s first appearance to Jacob on his journey towards Laban’s household…
Jacob vowed: “If G-d will be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going, will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house… then this stone that I have set up as a pillar shall become a house of G-d” (28:20-22).
Jacob's vow is his own response to G-d on the first occasion that He ever spoke to him. G-d told him: “I will give the land on which you now lie to you and to your descendants” (28:13). He would be “with him, take care of him wherever he goes, bring him back to this Land, and He would not forsake him” (28:15). Jacob's requests, however, were modest. He did not make conditions with G-d. He wanted only the bare essentials. Just bread, clothing, and a safe passage with His guidance. As the Radak explains, righteous people ask only for what they need, and no more.
Abarbanel observes the significance of exactly where and when G-d first spoke to Jacob. It did not happen all the years that he was at home, but when he was at his most vulnerable: a lone single traveler. In addition, suggests Abarbanel, Jacob may have been a little unsure as to whether he had done the right thing in using deception to obtain the blessings originally intended for Esau.
Thus G-d arranged that at the moment of nightfall Jacob would unknowingly get to the spot where the Divine Presence was to be at its most intense. The ladder expressed it: the ascending angels communicating the future korbanot and tefillot ascending to intercede on high, and the descending angels indicating G-d’s favorable protective response.
That simultaneously conveyed to Jacob a message about his position as an individual and as a Patriarch. G-d agreed that he and not Esau was to receive and pass on the blessings of Abraham and Isaac: “I will give the land on which you now lie to you and to your descendants”. Those words reassured him that in G-d’s eyes he was sleeping on the land and in the surroundings that were granted to him, that he ultimately owned, and where the Divine Presence was to be at its most intense. And through him his descendants and indeed all humanity would be blessed.
In that sense, G-d’s appearance to Jacob at that time and in that way conveyed the following message: “You have arrived and you belong here”. He was in his own domain, in his own territory. He was where he belonged: at the place that G-d had chosen. That reassured him, despite leaving home in a hurry and traveling with nothing.
He was at home. Knowing that you are home means that you are no longer a lone traveler on the road. You are safe; you can therefore manage with the barest necessities. You do not depend on the goodwill of others. And for that reason he only asked for “bread to eat and clothing to wear”. Even though his travels would take him to distant lands, the most spiritually highly-charged spot on earth was the place he could look to and consider as home.
Perhaps this gives an insight into travel today. People travel to chutz la-aretz for many reasons: family, business, education, and simply to interact for sometime with a different environment. But the sense of living and belonging to Eretz Yisrael gives a different and special frame to travel. Indeed, people often say that the best moment of their travels was the first glimpse of Israel on the return flight.
Acknowledgment to Reb Yacob Solomon