Yaakov Did Not Rely Solely on Prayer
The Torah teaches us, according to Rashi and the words of the rabbis, that
our father Yaakov prepared for his encounter with Eisav by adopting three
possible strategies. They were mollifying Eisav with gifts, praying to God
for deliverance and engaging in physical battle against him. The first
strategy proved to be successful, though the Torah records for us Yaakov
implementing his second strategy as well, with his heartfelt prayer to the
Lord that he be spared from the murderous hands of Eisav.
The question arises why Yaakov had to have alternate strategies in the first
place. Was it not sufficient to rely on the power of prayer and God’s
original commitment to him that He would be with him and safeguard him from
all harm? In the simplicity of faith, is that not sufficient for Yaakov, the
chosen one of our forefathers?
I have often been challenged by problems that arise in life. I always prayed
for God’s help and succor. Sometimes my prayers were accepted and matters
developed as I hoped for. There were other times that this did not occur.
But I always had an alternate strategy – a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant,
an advisor – that I followed in tandem with my prayers.
Someone once asked me if there was a lack of faith on my part when I
insisted that the faculty members of my yeshiva own life insurance policies.
Why not rely on prayer and Heaven alone? I replied that I was only following
in the methods of my father Yaakov who also adopted alternate strategies and
apparently did not rely on prayer alone. My critic thought my answer to be
heretical. I thought that he was misrepresenting the Torah value of faith
and wise living.
There is a common adage that God helps those that help themselves. To
accomplish things in life, both spiritually and materially, effort and
planning, devotion and industry must be expended. Once, in my yeshiva days
long ago, I had great difficulty in understanding a difficult concept that
was raised by one of the commentators to the Talmud. I asked my teacher
whether prayer to Heaven would help me understand that concept. He answered
that it would help only if one has truly exhausted one’s own abilities to
understand the matter.
I then realized that prayer was Yaakov’s second strategy and that he felt it
would help only if at first he employed it together with prayer - first the
attempt to soothe Eisav’s anger with gifts. Relying on prayer alone without
the expenditure of one’s own talents and resources is a way of getting away
cheaply in the matter.
The famous rebbe of Sanz, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam stated: “First one must be
prepared to tear out one’s own rib before one can expect Heaven to intervene
in one’s stead!” Yaakov is prepared to risk all of his hard earned wealth,
and in fact his life itself, when forced to deal with Eisav. Because of
this, Heaven intervenes and Eisav conciliates with Yaakov. There is a lesson
here for all of us.
Rabbi Berel Wein