Vayetze – Anatomy of a Prayer
And Jacob vowed a vow, saying: If God will be with me, and will guard me in the way which I am going, and He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear; and I will return in peace to my father’s home, then the Lord shall be my God. (Genesis 28:20-21)
Upon departing from his home and family Jacob prayed that God should safeguard him and provide for him. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch gleans from this prayer great lessons about life and priorities – the way Jacob approached life.
First Jacob asked for safety. He wanted security during his journey abroad, but he was not merely seeking personal safety. Jacob was looking to safeguard his possessions. In the first phrase of the Priestly Blessing – May the Lord bless you and safeguard you – it is implicit that there is no need for safeguarding unless there is first blessing. When Jacob asked for safeguarding he must have had something of great value that needed safekeeping. But Jacob had nothing, he came with no wealth! When Jacob met Rachel at the well, and he resolved at that time to marry her, he offered her nothing, no gifts. If Jacob had valuables he surely would have given something to Rachel at the time, just as his mother was given jewelry when she was approached at the well. When Jacob soon thereafter asked for Rachel’s hand in marriage he offered 7 years of his labour to earn her hand. If he had wealth he would surely have offered money instead. What then, was Jacob asking to safeguard?
Rav Hirsch explains that Jacob had something far more valuable than material possessions for which he was seeking security; Jacob had his integrity and gentle character to preserve. Earlier the Torah described Jacob as a “dweller of tents,” one who was immersed in contemplative study. Within the halls of the academy Jacob had thrived, and had developed and preserved his character without pressure from external influences. Now that Jacob was going out into the big wide world he was worried that he may fall into the habit of making co