I have a great investment deal for all of you. I realize that we usually don’t discuss and, certainly, do not handle money on Shabbat, but I cannot contain myself. I have to tell you about this great opportunity.
Here it is: I will guarantee a 10% return on your investment. That is, if you give me $10, I will give you $1. If you give me $100, I will give you $10 and so on. Of course, if you give me $10, I will keep $9, if you give me $100, I will keep $90, and so on. But this is a great deal! I will give %10 back of every thing you give me!
OK, everyone who is going to show up at my place after Shabbat is over to take advantage of this wonderful offer, raise your hands…..I mean now….a show of hands of those who want to take advantage of this once in a life time opportunity!
Hmmmmm, not too many hands. Clearly you do not think this is a good deal, this idea that if you give me something, I give you %10 back and keep the rest. You, with your merely human minds, recognize that this is a silly offer, a scam so ridiculous it evokes laughter rather than anger.
After Jacob’s dream of the the ladder stretching from Earth to Heaven, with angels ascending and descending, he awoke and dedicated a pillar and offered G-D a deal.
Jacob then made this vow: “If G-D is with me and watches over me on this path that I am taking and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s house, then will The Eternal be my G-D; and this stone I have set up as a monument shall be a house of G-D. And of all that you give me, I will dedicate a tenth to You.” (Gen. 28:20-22)
Perhaps there is a missing part of Jacob’s offer where he throws in some beach front property in Arizona. Does Jacob think G-D is stupid? Why in the world would G-D, as G-D apparently does, agree to this deal? What is in it for G-D?
Certainly it is not the return of the 10% that G-D has given Jacob, neither can The Creator of Heaven and Earth need Jacob to commit to worship-even if one does not want to posit the self sufficiency of The Most High (which begs the question of why create the universe after all), a few impressive special effects and
G-D can have all the followers G-D may desire. Could it be G-D’s commitment to Abraham? Surely if Sarah could have a kid at 90, Rebecca could incubate a replacement for Jacob. Why?
I will suggest a few possible reasons. First, Jacob has potential. OK, he is a bit of momma’s boy, not necessarily a bad thing in modern Jewish culture, he tricked his father, and ran from his twin brother in fear because of it. Yet, he has potential. He will grow and change and become a better person. We learn here that G-D meets us where we are, not only where G-D wants us to be. In our flawed and broken state, G-D continually reaches out to us to help us grow into our potential. As I tell my students, you are in class to learn, I do not expect you to already know the material. So too, G-D helps us to grow into greater worthiness, not requiring that we be so wonderful to start with.
Jacob recognizes his dependence on G-D, from the food he eats to the clothes he wears to his very life and safety. In this recognition, Jacob already has an insight. Though he states it as a deal, he surely sees that he has been living in this dependent state his whole life. In the seeming con job that Jacob is pulling off, he explicitly acknowledges that he can not give to G-D anything that G-D has not already given to him. Thus, we are taught the lesson of our own contingency.
Finally, if we believe, as I do, that our job is the repair of our broken world and to act as co-creators of a better future, G-D must start with something, even with such imperfect and broken tools as we. We get to watch as Jacob grows into his role and, for all of his flaws, father our people as a house of servants to G-D. We learn that even the broken are beloved of G-D and can do great things in G-D’s service.
The deal is not what matters to G-D. The Eternal is already helping Jacob, materially and in laying the ground work for his future growth. G-D has already promised to help more.
We can see lots of nasty things in Jacob, but, in some ways, that is exactly the point. We learn that G-D meets us where we are at, wherever that might be, that we need to be aware of our contingency and dependence, and find that the mission of our lives is not too great for us-each of us will change and grow into our tasks and that will be good enough.