Certainty and the Return to Beit El by Shimmy Greengart ('21)

After the fiasco with Dinah in Shechem, Yaakov receives a command from Hashem: “Kum, Aleih Beit El VeSheiv Sham, Ve’Aseih Sham Mizbei’ach, La’Eil HaNireh Eilecha BeVarchacha MiPenei Eisav Achicha”, “Arise, ascend to Beit-El and settle there, and make an altar there to the G-d who appeared to you when you were fleeing from Eisav your brother.” (BeReishit 35:1) This is the only time in Sefer Bereishit where Hashem directly commands someone to build an altar and offer Korbanot. Rashi explains that Yaakov received this unique instruction since he had not yet fulfilled a promise he made to Hashem. In last week’s Parashah, Yaakov promised that, if Hashem protects him on his journey and brings him back safely to his father’s house, he will give a tenth of everything he has back to Hashem (BeReishit 28:20-22). Rashi clarifies that Hashem is directing Yaakov to fulfill that vow, and that the affair with Dinah was Yaakov’s punishment for delaying his responsibility (BeReishit Rabbah 81:2).

If you look at the actual text of the vow, however, this understanding seemingly falls apart. Yaakov stated in BeReishit 28:21, that one of the conditions of the vow was “VeShavti BeShalom El Beit Avi”,“and I will return peacefully to my father’s house.” Yaakov only promised that he would give Ma’aser to Hashem after he returned to his father! Therefore, according to Rashi, Hashem is punishing Yaakov for neglecting to fulfill a vow that he was not yet obligated to complete!

The Abarbanel instead explains that Hashem’s instruction to travel to Beit-El was really a commandment to leave Shechem. The Abarbanel states that the fact that the Cana’anim refrained from attacking Yaakov after he destroyed Shechem was miraculous, and that we should not rely on miracles any longer than necessary. According to the Abarbanel’s explanation, Hashem was not demanding Yaakov to thank him and fulfill his vow, but He was demanding this payment specifically in Beit-El to remove Yaakov from harm’s way.

Later in his essay, the Abarbanel explains why Yaakov had to thank Hashem for salvation from Eisav’s initial wrath, and not from Shechem. He states that when Yaakov made his vow when in Beit El for the first time, he was not sure if the vision of the ladder was prophecy, or merely an unusual dream. Thus, he was actually vowing that if the vision was truly prophecy, and he comes back safely, then he will give Ma’aser to Hashem. By the time Yaakov arrived at Shechem, Hashem had already saved him from Lavan, Eisav, and the man who wrestled with him at Nachal Yabok. He knew that G-d was with him, and therefore had the greatest obligation to thank him.

Perhaps this can be implemented to explain the BeReishit Rabbah’s seemingly difficult opinion that the disaster in Shechem was to punish Yaakov for not yet fulfilling his vow. By this point, Yaakov should have had confidence in Hashem that he would be safely delivered to his father’s house, because he had already been saved from so many other dangers. Yaakov should no longer have had any doubt in Hashem, and therefore he would be required to give Ma’aser. Hashem therefore punished him for his delay in fulfilling his responsibility

Sometimes, we say that we will complete a certain task only once we are absolutely certain that our information is correct. In many cases, however, we should not wait until we are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt of the validity of our actions. Hashem always holds us responsible for our actions, therefore delaying is often detrimental to our cause.


The Necessity of Justice in the Presence of the Shechinah by Ned Krasnopolsky ('19)

To Emulate Lavan? by Rabbi Michael Hoenig