For the week of November 16, 2002 / 11 Kislev 5763
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10

Unconditional Promises

There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying." (Bereshit / Genesis 28:13).

Have you ever been promised anything? Most of us have. There are many different kinds of promises. Those differences may have to do with the content of the promise, as in being promised a new bicycle as a child or a pay raise as an adult. Promises differ as well on how certain one can be of their fulfillment. This certainty is based on two factors: the giver of the promise and the condition upon which the promise is to be fulfilled.

In order to be certain that a promise will be fulfilled one has to be assured that the giver is both able to deliver what was promised and have a reputation of being reliable. A relative may promise a child something, but they may or may not have the means of acquiring it. There may also be a question as to whether or not they keep their promises.

Whether or not a promise will be fulfilled is also dependant upon whether or not there are any conditions involved. A parent may promise a treat to a child, but they will receive it only if they eat their broccoli first, for example.

Whether or not a promise is conditional can greatly affect behavior. A child, who may otherwise not want to eat the broccoli, may do so simply because of the promise.

Picture now two children, both are given the promise of a treat after dinner. As it turns out the promise is unconditional, but one knows that, the other does not. The child who thinks the giving of the treat is based on his finishing the main course may think the other child doesn't really want the treat, since he didn't finish his broccoli or whatever. But what a surprise when that child gets the treat anyway.

It is interesting that because the child who ate the broccoli did so because he thought it was a condition, he still may think the other child should not get the treat. Since in his mind he had to strive to get the treat, even though he didn't have to, he expects the other child to be under the same obligation.

Jacob in this week's parasha is given an unconditional promise. That which God had promised to his father, Isaac and his grandfather, Abraham, was also given to him without conditions.

He was not even a follower of God! This is clear because, first, God referred to himself as only the God of Abraham and Isaac (28:13). Second Jacob's own promise was conditional upon God's keeping of his own promise to him (28:20-22).

Some people have a hard time understanding how God's ancient promises to the Jewish people could still apply to them today. They don't believe that the Jewish people deserve the fulfillment of God's promises. It's as if they are pointing at Israel and saying, "Hey! They didn't eat their broccoli!"

Of course they do not deserve what God has promised. None of us do. If God related to us solely on the basis of what we deserve, then we would all be cut off from his goodness.

This is not to say that none of God's promises are conditional. Some are, some aren't. Our problem is that we often confuse the two.

God revealed to Jacob the destiny of his people. Jacob's actions were not going to determine the outcome. God would. What was left for Jacob was either to cooperate with God or work against him. It would take many years for Jacob to come to that place where he truly walked with God. That will be the subject of next week's TorahByte.

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