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Striving to Be Worthy

Torah Thoughts on Parshas Vayishlach by Rabbi Yeshaya Zimmerman

"וַיִירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵצֶר לוֹ" בְּרֵאשִׁית ל"ב:ח'

"Then Yaakov became very frightened and distressed." Bereshis 32:8

In Parashas Vayeitzei (28:20), Yaakov makes a vow to Hashem that, at first glance, seems difficult to understand.He seems to be saying that if Hashem will lead him safely back to his father's house, then He will be his God.How can Yaakov, who is clearly a tzaddik, make such a vow? How can one who has spent years learning Torah, who has just experienced a prophetic vision of Hashem, base his faith and his loyalty on what Hashem will do for Him? Hasn't the direction of Yaakov's entire life been determined by his relationship with Hashem?

Rashi helps us to see that Yaakov's concerns are not opportunistic, but rather are of a very high spiritual nature. If, he says, Hashem keeps His promises, then he will be able to return pure enough, and deserving enough, to merit being the father of the Jewish people. Ramban, commenting on this Rashi, says that Yaakov is worried about his ability to live up to the promise Hashem has made to him – the promise of the land of Israel and of nationhood that had previously been promised to Yitzchak and Avraham. He knows where he is going. He knows that the world is treacherous and filled with temptations, and he is afraid that he may sin and that any resulting flaw will make him unworthy and unable to assume the role which Hashem has promised him and for which he has been blessed by his father.

Now, when he is told that Eisav is coming to meet him with four hundred men, he becomes very frightened indeed. Perhaps he has not lived up to the standards expected of him. Perhaps he deserves to succumb to Eisav, even though Hashem has told him to return to Israel. In the Midrash (Bereshis Rabba 76:2) on this pasuk, Rav Yudan says that it is from here that we learn that there is no assurance for the righteous in this world. The Midrash cites Rav Huna in the name of Rav Acha who names the above-mentioned pasuk that was quoted in last week's parashah as the source of this same principle. For even though Hashem has promised Yaakov that He will be with Him, Yaakov is still worried that he will do something that will make him unfit.

And perhaps it is this very fear, this constant awareness that there isn't a righteous person in this world who does not sin or have the potential to sin, that contributes to the very high level which Yaakov was able to attain.


Rabbi Yeshaya Zimmerman grew up in Brooklyn, earned a B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1975, and an M.A. from Columbia University in occupational therapy in 1980. In his late 20s he began to learn Torah. He and his wife made Aliyah in 1986, where he learned in a Kollel in Migdal HaEmek. He moved to Chicago in 1988, learned at HTC, then taught a Gemara shiur. He also taught English in FYHS from 2000 to 2007. He was with the Frumi Noble Kollel and taught a course in Gemara, all while practicing occupational therapy. The Zimmermans returned to Israel in 2012, where he received Semichah in 2016.

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