Jacob's Anxiety

Being forced to flee from his home, Jacob had little food and personal security.

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At the beginning of Parashat Vayetze, we encounter Jacob on the run from Esau, having tricked his brother out of the birthright. As night falls, Jacob rests for the night and has a startling prophetic dream involving angels ascending and descending a ladder between earth and heaven.

american jewish world serviceDuring the dream God makes a number of promises to Jacob, concerning both his future well-being and that of his progeny.  The following morning Jacob makes a neder, a vow, which largely parallels God's promises in the dream, but with several deviations which may grant insight into Jacob’s psychological state:

The Dream

Jacob's Vow

The land... I will give it to you and your descendants... All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.

 

Behold, I will be with you;

If God will be with me,

I will watch over you wherever you go,

And will watch over me on this path upon which I go,

 

And will provide me with bread to eat and clothing to wear,

And I will return you to this land.

And I will return in peace to my fathers house,

I will not leave you.

The Lord will be for me a God.


The differences between Jacob’s neder and God’s promise reveal Jacob's fear for his personal security. He has exchanged the more general, long-term vision of God's blessing for more personal, immediate needs. God promises to “watch over you wherever you go,” while Jacob asks only for supervision of the path he currently walks. A promise to return to the land becomes a hope simply to return to his father's home in peace. The promise of descendents disappears completely from Jacob's response. Instead he asks only for the most basic sustenance and raiment.

The events that led Jacob to this moment provide us with a backdrop to his anxiety. Jacob’s lack of security, and specifically his food insecurity, are the result of displacement from his home, having fled for his life due to the threat of Esau's violence. He no longer has access to his family's land or flocks, Esau's game meat, or for that matter, his mother's cooking. It is no wonder that Jacob the wanderer fears for where his next meal will come from.

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Daniel Bloom

Daniel Bloom is an Australian-born environmentalist who currently works as a program associate at Hazon. He lives with his wife in New York City.