In this week’s Parashah, Ya'akov Avinu has a rather unusual conversation with Hashem. On the surface, Ya’akov seems to be telling Hashem what His responsibilities are and what He must do in order for Ya’akov to accept him. He tells Hashem that he will only serve Him if He gives him protection, food, and clothes (BeReishit 28:20), despite Hashem already promising to protect Ya’akov throughout his journey (28:15). It seems like Ya'akov Avinu is questioning Hashem!
Rav Shmuel Goldin, in his book Unlocking the Torah Text, explains how Ya’akov could be allowed to say these things as there is possibility that he was negotiating with God. The Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 70:4) states that the Pesukim are written in the wrong order. Really, Hashem hadn’t promised Ya’akov anything, but only once Ya’akov explicitly requests it, Hashem tells him He would do it.
Rashi (28:21 s.v. VeHayah Hashem Li Leilokim), however, explains that in reality, Ya’akov is issuing a prayer, not a demand. By saying Hashem will become his God, he is referencing Avraham’s conversation with Hashem. This reference is intended to be Ya’akov’s way of asking Hashem to deal favorably with him as He had done with Avraham.
The Rashbam (28:20 s.v. Im Yehiyeh Elokim Imadi) and the Seforno (28:21 s.v. VeHayah Hashem Li Leilokim) look at this prayer in a different way. The Rashbam says that it is simply a request that Hashem help him in the future. The Seforno expands on that and says that it is helping him by eliminating all of his material concerns so that he can grow spiritually. The reason why he says Hashem will then be his God, refers to the level on which Ya’akov sees himself. He envisions that he could be raised to a completely different level if Hashem were to allow him to focus on his spirituality.
Rav Goldin explains that Ya’akov isn’t being selfish by asking for material items or even for asking Hashem to help him spiritually. He makes this request to benefit everyone else in the world. He sees it as an opportunity to make Hashem the God of others. If he can be anywhere but still be sustained, he could go anywhere to spread Hashem’s name to everyone.
From this we can learn the great importance of prayer. We can ask Hashem for anything, and we can amount to greatness using the things we ask for. After continuous prayer, we can be the best that we can be and hopefully our prayers can spread to everyone else. We can help everyone everywhere by just saying a few words to Hashem each day. Hopefully we can all come together and bring Refu’ah and Shalom to the world.