When Worrying is Warranted


According to Rashi, the phrase "Im Lovon garti" indicates that Yaakov kept all 613 mitzvos while living with Lovon. How does this statement fit in with the statement a few verses later that Yaakov was fearful lest, as a result of his sins, he deserved to be delivered into Esov's hands? What sin was Yaakov worried about?


If your question is why he was concerned if he was a tzaddik, the Gemoro (Berachos 4a) takes the question even further: Hashem promised him that he would arrive safely, so why was he afraid?

The Gemoro replies that he was concerned about an aveiroh. Which aveiroh, you ask? He was a tzaddik and he knew he was a tzaddik! Taryag mitzvos shomarti!

The answer is that he was not concerned about a specific sin that might have been so bad as to cancel Hashem's promise. He knew he hadn't done anything that bad. Besides, if he was concerned about that, his behavior wasn't appropriate. Assuming Yaakov was aware of Hashem's power, if he really deserved a divine punishment through Esov and he and his family were going to be wiped out, it is unlikely that a military strategy or gifts would sabotage Hashem's design. Clearly, there must be another explanation for what is going on.

Here is Rav Moshe Cordovero's approach in Shiur Komah (pp. 114 and 120): Shemo yigrom hachet (the phrase found in the Gemoro) means that perhaps Yaakov's hashgochoh level had become diminished and he was now subject to natural dangers. It was not that he had committed a terrible sin; he simply may have been more distant from Hashem than before. That distance carries with it a change in hashgochoh level and puts a person at risk of being the victim of natural dangers and random events.

When Yaakov left Eretz Yisroel he was a yoshev ohalim. His every action, from the most spiritual to the most mundane, was focused on avodas Hashem. Everything he did had spiritual significance. In that state he was so close to Hashem that he could rely on miracles (when he had received a promise from Hashem) and did not have to be concerned about normal, natural means of protection.

After spending 22 years tending sheep, raising a family, and generally being involved in mundane matters, Yaakov was concerned that he may have had moments when he lost focus and his behavior did not take Hashem into account. If so, he would be subject to nature and would have to deal with Esov in the way any military strategist would. The situation would require a military solution and diplomacy. Even a natural solution requires tefilloh. Consequently, he prepared in these three ways.

That is what shemo yigrom hachet means. Maybe he committed a minor sin and thereby lost his high level of hashgochoh. In that case, he would have to deal with Esov through milchomoh, doron and tefilloh. If he did what common sense demanded, he knew the promise would be fulfilled. But his fear was justified because he really might have been subject to mikreh.[1]

In his introduction to the parshoh, the Ramban tells us that Yaakov did the right thing. Although he was a tzaddik, it is always correct to be concerned that one might not be deserving of special hashgochoh. One may have lost one's focus and therefore be vulnerable to randomness.

The Birkei Yosef (Y.D. 336:2) rules that everyone must seek medical assistance rather than relying on tzidkus. If Hashem decrees life and death, a person might ask, "Why bother with doctors?" The Chidoh quotes the Ramban in Bechukosai and in Toras Ho'odom as saying that most people are subject to mikreh because of their attitude towards nature. When that happens, they can catch a disease and the only way to rid themselves of the disease is through nature, i.e., medication and/or surgery. He also urges doctors to treat everyone, since no one can be sure that he is enough of a tzaddik not to be subject to nature and coincidence.

The Rambam says that the state of a person's hashgochoh is constantly in flux, depending upon what he is doing. When he is davening or doing mitzvos he has more hashgochoh than when he is, say, brushing his teeth (Moreh Nevuchim 3:51)

The Pele Yoetz says something similar, also in the context of medicine (under "Refuah"). The Mesilas Yeshorim raises the same point in "Zerizus" (chapter 9). Someone who puts himself in danger is vulnerable to the elements because of the sin of putting himself in danger. The reasoning is that this sin distances him from Hashem and the distance may make him susceptible to the risks of nature and coincidence.

This is why Yaakov was worried that he might have sinned. We are all expected to be unsure of our relationship with Hashem. To think that one is very close to Hashem and will be protected is arrogant and itself a sin.

Rabbeinu Yonah (Mishlei 3:26) describes Yaakov's fear in this vein and then adds that the mitzvoh of bitachon requires us to balance our fear that a calamity is about to occur with a healthy dose of optimism. We should hope that our bleak situation will reverse itself; not because we deserve the reversal but because of Hashem's mercy. We should hope that due to our acceptance of our past suffering as retribution for our sins, subordination to Hashem, and pining for salvation from Hashem; Hashem will bless us with salvation.

We can never be certain that a frightening situation will be reversed due to our trust in Hashem. Still, it is correct to hope it will happen. Having complete confidence that Hashem is capable of altering the situation and trusting that there is a good chance that His mercy will transform the impending doom into redemption by overwhelming the natural forces He established is an important part of bitachon. We are then enveloped by seemingly paradoxical feelings. On the one hand, we are afraid of the dangerous, natural circumstances at hand (which we ourselves are responsible for confronting); but on the other hand we are hopeful that Hashem, in His mercy, will save us (even though our merits make us undeserving). Such hope should overwhelm the fear so that we are more optimistic than apprehensive.

But anxiety due to natural and predictable perils is not a feeling we should suppress. On the contrary, even if Hashem Himself promised us protection, we should always be concerned that we have distanced ourselves from Hashem so much that we are subject to natural laws and consequences. We will then need to take normal measures in order to receive the promised blessing.

This is one of the many lessons we are meant to learn from Yaakov.

BookID: 5 Chapter: 32

[1] In other words, if he had not sinned at all he would have been confident that Hashem's promise would be realized without any preparation on his part. If he had lost the high level of hashgochoh by a sin he committed then Hashem's commitment to protect him may not be actualized unless he does everything that needs to be done al pi derech hateva.

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