Written for Shabbat, Parshat Vayeitzei, ו’ בכסלו תשע”ד:

Vayeitzei – 5774


In this week’s Parsha, Yaakov travels to Charan to find himself a wife. He ends up working for his prospective father-in-law, Lavan, for a total of fourteen years a means of earning the right to marry his two daughters Rachel and Leah. During this time, all of Yaakov’s work was for the sake of Lavan’s flock and Lavan’s wealth, but he had not started working on building up his own assets. Finally he arranges a business deal with Lavan by which Yaakov can start earning for the sake of his own household, and works for another six years.

The Torah explains in great detail (30:37-42) how Yaakov used speckled and striped rods and placed them in front of the sheep when they were in heat in order that they would bear the type of sheep that constituted his wages. After all this, Yaakov “became exceedingly prosperous” (30:43). A little further on, however, when Yaakov is speaking to his wives in the field, he tells them of how Lavan was constantly changing his wages. He explained how God has protected him from Lavan’s attempts to harm him, (31:8) “If he would stipulate: ‘Speckled ones shall be your wages,’ then the entire flock bore speckled ones; and if he would stipulate: ‘Ringed ones shall be your wages,’ then the entire flock bore ringed ones.” Here the way Yaakov explains it, you get the impression that he had nothing to do with it, rather it was all a direct act of Hashem, and yet we have so many verses explaining in detail how Yaakov worked to achieve this goal. What changed in the interim?

Just like with his forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, Yaakov was blessed with great success in his endeavors by Hashem. However, He did not give this blessing immediately; it is apparent from the verses that the blessing came only after he put in all this hard work to earn for himself. Chazal teach us the importance of putting in our own Hishtadlut, effort, to achieve our goals. While Hashem has infinite blessing to bestow upon us and can choose to do so unconditionally, like a father does with his children, He wishes for us to learn to work for ourselves. He knows that we do not gain from the products of blessing if there were no toil that came with it; it is in the hard work that we put in that we learn and improve. Only once we have started the process and are trying to earn for ourselves, then God intervenes and blesses us with success (assuming we are on the path that is correct for us).

Even Yaakov Avinu, as great as he was, still needed to work for himself before God would grant His blessing. Once He did, however, the success seemed to come of its own accord, as though his efforts were no longer needed and everything came straight from Hashem. This does not mean that he stopped working, as we see later on when he is arguing with Lavan, but the success came so easily he recognized that it was not his efforts, but Hashem’s blessing that made it so.

It is the same with all of us. If we want success in this world, and we are traveling the path that is intended for us, then we must first put in the necessary effort before asking God to help us along. Be it in work, Torah learning, finding a Shidduch, or raising our children, we cannot sit back and wait for Hashem to take care of it for us, but rather we should start working on it ourselves and only then can God’s blessings follow. Shabbat Shalom.

(Note: I heard once the idea, stated, I believe, by the Rambam, that all miracles start with physical actions by people. This fits the above idea nicely, but I do not have a reference for it, so I left it out for now.)

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