25 Nov 2020 Parshas Vayeitzei – Developing A Personal Relationship with G-d
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei, we learn of Yaakov’s flight from Beer Sheva, en route to Charan, as he flees the wrath of his brother, Eisav. It is there, at the home of Lavan, that he will marry his four wives – Leah, Zilpah, Rachel and Bilhah – and father his children.
As the parsha opens, Yaakov finds himself alone in the dark, and as he sleeps, G-d appears to him. וַיַּחֲלֹם, וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה, וְרֹאשׁוֹ, מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה; וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹקים, עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ – And he dreamt, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of G-d were ascending and descending upon it (Bereishis 28:12). And in his first communication with Yaakov, Hashem says: אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ, וֵאֱלֹקי יִצְחָק; הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֶךָ – and behold G-d was standing over him, and He said, ‘I am Hashem, the G-d of Avraham your father, and the G-d of Yitzchak, the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed (Bereishis 28:13).
Here, as Hashem first reveals himself to our third patriarch, the bechir she’b’avos (the choicest of the patriarchs), His first words are: I am the G-d of your father Avraham, and the G-d of Yitzchak. Yaakov will carry on the legacy and community began by his father and grandfather, as he journeys forward to begin his own family.
It is noteworthy that in the context of Hashem’s first communications with Yitzchak, He says: אָנֹכִי אֱלֹקי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ; אַל–תִּירָא, כִּי–אִתְּךָ אָנֹכִי, וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֶת–זַרְעֲךָ, בַּעֲבוּר אַבְרָהָם עַבְדִּי, I am the G-d of Avraham your father, do not be afraid, for I am with you, and I will bless you and increase your seed, for the sake of Avraham my servant (26:24). Here, In the aftermath of Yitzchak re-digging the wells that his father Avraham had originally dug, Hashem refers to Himself as the G-d of Avraham, but not the G-d of Yitzchak himself. Furthermore, Hashem promises to bless Yitzchak only in the merit of Avraham.
Why there does Hashem refer to his relationship with Avraham, but in our parsha, in the context of Yaakov’s dream, does Hashem communicate as the G-d of Avraham and the G-d of Yitzchak?
Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “When G-d appeared to Yitzchak (Bereishis 26), G-d identified himself as the G-d of Avraham, but not the G-d of Yitzchak. (This is because) Yitzchak had not yet developed his approach to G-d the way Avraham had done. “And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Avraham, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Avraham’s death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them” (Bereishis 26:18).
“This is more than a story about wells. The Torah is teaching us that Yitzchak only drew water from the wells that his father had dug: he had not dug his own wells, he had not yet developed a unique religious approach. At this point G-d promised to bless Yitzchak and multiply his seed, but only for the sake of Avraham (v.24).
“Yitzchak realized that it was insufficient to reopen Avraham’s wells; he had to dig his own. At the moment that he built his own altar and called in the name of G-d – developing an edifice and approach of his own – then G-d was no longer merely the G-d of Avraham. Later, when G-d appears to Yaakov, he identified Himself as the G-d of Yitzchak as well as the G-d of Avraham (Vayeitzei, 28:13).
“The introduction to Shemoneh Esrei is phrased אֱלֹקי אַבְרָהָם אֱלֹקי יִצְחָק וֵאֱלֹקי יַעֲקב, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak and the G-d of Yaakov, and not simply אֱלֹקי אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וֵיַעֲקב, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. This wording is meant to convey that Yitzchak and Yaakov did not merely reflect Avraham’s worldview: they broadened and deepened it. Though based on Avraham’s trailblazing, Yitzchak’s and Yaakov’s individual approaches to G-d were distinct” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.196-197).
From here we learn a powerful and important lesson. Every Jew must receive the mesorah from the previous generation, but at the same time, develop and cultivate a personal relationship with the RS”O, where He becomes my G-d, and not only the G-d of my fathers.
I once heard a beautiful vort told over by Rabbi Shay Schachter that illustrates this very idea. Every day, in Az Yashir (Pesukei d’Zimrah of Shachris), we say: זֶה קלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ, אֱלֹקי אָבִי וַאֲרֹמְמֶנְהוּ, this is my G-d and I will glorify Him; my father’s G-d, and I will exalt Him (Shemos 15:2).
This pasuk encapsulates the two aspects of every Jew’s essential relationship with Hashem. זֶה קלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ – this is MY G-d and I will glorify him. It is each person’s tafkid (duty) to forge his own path, within the parameters of Torah and halacha, to G-d and to personally relate to Him as only each individual can. Our talents, capabilities, thoughts, feelings, experiences, intelligence and life story are unlike any other person, and so, each person is a world unto himself. It is this unique person that connects to G-d as his personal G-d.
However, a Jew must never forget that he is but a link on the chain of our glorious mesorah, reaching all the way back to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. We build our unique and personal relationship with Hashem based on the relationship of our fathers and the teachings of the past generations: אֱלֹקי אָבִי וַאֲרֹמְמֶנְהוּ, my father’s G-d, and I will exalt Him.
With this dual understanding, each of us can truly come to strive to the highest heights of avodas Hashem. May we be courageous enough to forge our own path in the present, as we receive from the past, so that we may continue to build the future.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,