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November 26, 1993 - Image 52

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-11-26

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Your palms begin to sweat...

You're on the verge of hysteria...

You pray that no one will hear...

Your worst nightmare come true...

You've just been asked to read...



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Finding One's Own God



s it religiously valid to at-
tempt to find one's own God?
Or is it sufficient to accept
the God idea handed down
by parents or by tradition? Cer-
tainly if an individual can de-
velop his own unique contact
with God, his Divine service will
be genuine and spontaneous
rather than mechanical and for-
mal. But a search, after all, is
fraught with pain and even
danger. What if the Almighty
still remains elusive, even after
a lengthy quest?
We begin the Amidah (stand-
ing prayer) with the words:
"Praised art thou, our God and
God of our Fathers." Rabbi Yis-
rael Baal Shem Tov, founder of
the Chasidic movement, ex-
plains that it is preferable to at-
tempt to discover one's own
God, and to establish a person-
al relationship with Him. Until
that occurs, however, one must
serve the God of one's parents.
Over the course of the past
few weeks, and culminating
with this week's portion of Vay-
ishlach, we can trace a pattern
which reveals that the under-
lying theme in Jacob's life is his
search for God: his God, and not
only the God of his fathers.
One might even suggest rea-
sons as to why, at least in Ja-
cob's case, the mere acceptance
of his father's God would be dif-
ficult if not impossible. After all,
the Bible tells us that Esau was
loved by his father, and Jacob
by his mother. If Jacob truly felt
unloved or rejected by Isaac, it
would have been problematic
for him to connect with his fa-
ther's God. And when he ac-
cepts his mother's ploy and
deceives his father, this would
only serve to intensify the an-
guish of separation that Jacob
must feel. Indeed, Jacob's jeal-
ousy and guilt vis a vis Esau
certainly got in the way of his
ability to establish a meaning-
ful relationship with the God of
his father, Isaac.
On the surface, it is the
wrath of Esau that forces Jacob
to run from home and head for
Padan Aram, the house of La-
ban. Additionally, the underly-
ing purpose of Jacob's journey
is a personal search for God,
and, if only subconsciously, the
God of his mother, in the place
of her roots.
The very first episode record-
ed when he leaves home is the
dream of the ascending and de-
scending angels in which God
suddenly appears to Jacob. The
words God chooses are telling:
"I am the Lord, God of Abraham
and the God of Isaac" (Genesis
28:13). There is no mention of

the God of Jacob; this God, the
God that Jacob knows from his
father and grandfather, has not
yet become Jacob's personal
How does Jacob respond
when he awakes? "Surely God
is in this place, and I didn't
know it" (Genesis 28:16). The
general understanding of this
verse is that Jacob is taken by
surprise. But the simple mean-
ing of lo yadati' is that Jacob
does not yet know God; yes, he
knows what he must do in or-
der to serve Him, and pray to
Him. But he has yet to get to

Shabbat Vayishlach
32:4 - 36:43
Hosea 11:7-12:12.

know Him in an intimate and
personal sense.
Jacob lives with Laban's
household for the next 20 years.
In the process of raising a fam-
ily and establishing a financial
foothold, Jacob loses sight of his
larger vision. Not only did he
not find his God; he runs the
risk of losing God altogether! He
must return to his father's land!
When we next find him making
an oath, it is with Laban upon
his departure. But he still can-
not speak of his own God, the
God of Jacob; he mentions only
the God of Abraham and Isaac.
Ultimately, Jacob under-
stands that he cannot success-
fully find God without first
facing Esau. He must remove
all impediments, because the
way to our personal God is
through the avenue of our fa-
ther's God. Will Esau stand in
the way of God's promise to Ja-
cob and his seed? Addressing
God, Jacob says, "Oh, God of my
father Abraham, and the God
of Isaac" (Genesis 32:10) but still
no mention of the God of Jacob.
It becomes clear that the
wedge between Jacob and his
God was Esau. On the night be-
fore he is scheduled to meet his
brother in the flesh, the Torah
records how Jacob wrestles an
unidentified stranger at the site
of the Jabok and prevails. Iden-
tified by our sages as the spirit
of Esau, Jacob receives the
name Yisrael (Israel) from the
stranger, and finally is able to
declare the verse he has been
waiting to utter his entire life.
"And Jacob called the name of
the place Peniel because I have
seen God face to face, and my

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