Yaakov is a very complex character that presents dilemmas and experiences that are very close to our own life. His way to respond to the challenges compels us to reflect upon our stances, our beliefs, our principles. How would we react if we were in his place? What does he teach us, his descendents, by his behaving?
A very common situation in our daily life is the doubt that affects our confidence in the Almighty. We use to think that this is a direct consequence of modern times, of an era of spiritual skepticism derived from the scientific attitude in modern society.
But in our parasha we discover that this phenomenon existed always. One of the expressions of this doubt regarding the confidence is the lie that both Abraham and Yitzhak told regarding their wives. They lied out of fear that the local dwellers kill them in spite of God’s promise!
Yaakov, for his part, he establishes conditions to accept the Almighty ad his God! The Torah says: “Jacob made then a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house, then the Lord shall be my God” (Gen. 28:20-21).
Many commentators try to understand that Yaakov did not really establish conditions for his belief. Some consider that he was afraid of losing God’s protection because of his possible future sins (Radak and Hizkuni, among others). Other commentators say that Yaakov was actually swearing that after having enjoyed of the Almighty’s protection, he will worship God in that very place (Ramban, Rabenu Bahya ben Asher, Rav Hayim Paltiel, Rosh, Keli Yakar)
But the simple reading of these verses put forward the doubt, the dilemma, the lack of confidence of Yaakov. He does not know for sure whether God’s promise will indeed become true. He is only beginning his spiritual journey. His belief comes from his parents and his grand-parents, but he has not yet developed his own in his soul. Up till now his life experience may have taught him the incertitude of the confidence: his father prefers his brother and he himself receives a blessing by deceiving; but the blessing is intended for somebody called Esav. His mother assured him that if anything goes wrong with the deception, she will carry the consequences instead of him (“Upon me be your curse, my son“); but now it is Yaakov who must run away and his mother does not defend him.
This doubt is not only his, although. It is also ours. We find ourselves all the time in the twilight zone of our confidence in God’s promise to the Jewish People. We believe, yet we ask questions. We are confident and skeptic at the same time. Sometimes we feel that we can rely on nobody, but God. And some other times we feel that we can rely on nobody, period.
Our spiritual growth and our dialogue with God are not constructed without doubts. They are forged by struggling deeply with spiritual doubts and by building again and again our confidence and our belief in God. Yaakov’s spiritual development is the symbol of this struggle, of this going from the doubt towards the deep understanding of the relationship between God and Israel His People. Yaakov learnt in his childhood how difficult it is to trust, but in time he understood that even if “my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psalms 27:10). In that moment, he became Israel and ceased being only Yaakov. Yaakov establishes conditions, while Israel is grateful to God. Yaakov runs away, while Israel comes back. Yaakov is plenty of doubts, while Israel seeks to trust. Yaakov looks for one only answer to his needs, while Israel knows that life is too complex and there is not only one solution to the challenges we face. As it is written: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me” (Psalms23,4)