Throughout Parshat Toldot, we are informed of Yaakov Avinu’s greatness. Even before Yaakov was born, when Rivka would pass Torah establishments Yaakov would try to get out of Rivka (Rashi). This is symbolic of the greatness he would achieve in life. Furthermore, we see that when Yaakov had to lie to his father, he could not bring himself to lie completely, and therefore he only misled Yitzchak.
At the beginning of Parshat Vayetzei we see the story of Yaakov resting on Har Hamoriah, where he had a Nevuah. The mere fact that he had a Nevuah further establishes Yaakov’s credibility as a Tzaddik.
There are two Pesukim within this story that seem to contradict this assertion that Yaakov was a Tzaddik: “Yaakov made an oath saying, ‘If Hashem will be with me and will protect me on this path that I am traveling and will give me food and clothing. And I return in peace to my father’s house, then I will accept Hashem as my God’” (28:20-21). The problem with these Pesukim is two-fold. First, how can Yaakov make such a stipulation with Hashem? Second, Hashem had already told Yaakov in Pasuk 15 that He is with Yaakov and He will protect him and return him to Eretz Yisrael. Why does Yaakov repeat that which Hashem had already told him? What is Yaakov really saying in this Pasuk?
The Kli Yakar brings a fascinating insight to this Pasuk. He explains that it cannot be that Yaakov is asking for שמירת הגוף (physical protection) because Hashem already promised this to Yaakov. Rather, Yaakov is asking for שמירת הנפש מן החטא (spiritual protection from sin). The Kli Yakar proves this through some brilliant insights into the language of the Torah:
Hashem said to Yaakov, ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך, “I will protect you wherever you go.” If Yaakov were referring to the same thing when he asked for protection, he would have said, ושמרני בכל אשר אלך, using the same words as Hashem. Instead, Yaakov says, ושמרני בדרך הזאת אשר אנכי הולך, “If you protect me on this path that I am traveling.” The path that Yaakov refers to is not a physical one, but the spiritual path of Hashem: Yaakov asks Hashem to protect him from sin.
This raises another question: If Yaakov is really asking Hashem to keep him from sinning, then why does the Pasuk mention material needs, such as food and clothing? The Kli Yakar explains that the Pasuk is to be understood as, לחם כדי לאכול ובגד כדי ללבוש. Yaakov wishes for enough food to eat and enough clothing to wear, but nothing more. Too much food and money, Yaakov knows, can lead to sin.
We see that this Pasuk is actually a Tefillah from Yaakov to Hashem about שמירת הנפש מן החטא. This explains why the Pasuk is not repetitious: it is saying something completely different than what Hashem said. Likewise, it explains that Yaakov’s alleged stipulation was not a stipulation at all, but rather a Tefillah.
We can learn a very important lesson from this episode. When Yaakov found out that he was in a place of Kedusha (holiness), the Pasuk states, וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי, “Yaakov awoke from his sleep, and he said ‘Surely Hashem is in this place, and I did not know!’” (28:16). Yaakov did not know that Hashem’s Presence was there. If he did, he would not have chosen that place to sleep.
This teaches us about Kedusha. How many times do we walk into a Shul or Bait Midrash and not think about its Kedusha? How many times do we put on Tefillin or Daven and not think about the Kedusha there? The Mishna Berura records many Halachot regarding the Kedusha of a Shul and how it should be treated. אם ירצה ה', we will take this lesson to heart and think about the Mitzvot we do and their Kedusha.
(I would like to thank Rabbi Blackstein for assisting me in putting together this article.)