Va-yishlah
For the week of December 1, 2001 / 16 Kislev 5762
Torah reading: Bereshit / Genesis 32:4 - 36:43
Haftarah: Hoshea / Hosea 11:7 - 12:12; English 11:7 12:11

Getting God's Favor

In the womb he grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor (Hoshea 12:4,5; English Hosea 12:3,4).

This week's Haftarah refers directly to its corresponding parasha (Torah portion). In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 32. Jacob wrestles with God. We read there that Jacob, even though injured by his divine opponent, would not let go until this mysterious one blessed him. Hosea's comment on this is that Jacob "begged for his favor" (12:5; English: 12:4).

Jacob, our forefather, begged God for his favor. Most of us don't think very highly of begging of any kind. We esteem independence, not extreme dependency. When someone begs, he places himself in a posture of complete helplessness before another person. One begs for what he does not have. Out of desperation, he pleads for help.

Jacob had a hard life, but he was actually quite successful. Yet at the same time he still lacked what he knew he most desperately needed - God's favor.

Jacob has been a most misunderstood Bible character. He is someone who more than once used schemes and trickery to achieve his goals. He was actually like many of us today. But what set him apart was his heart's desire. He wanted his father's spiritual inheritance. This was not his by birthright, but his destiny nonetheless. While his twin brother couldn't care less about these things, Jacob did everything he could do get God's favor, which was first promised to his grandfather Abraham.

Abraham was called to participate in the highest of callings - to cooperate with the Almighty in his determination to draw human beings back into a right relationship with himself. To be in that place is to live in harmony with the Creator and his creation. To be in that place is to know the goodness and companionship of God. To be in that place is to know the blessing of the Heavenly King.

Regardless of his achievements, Jacob knew that the greatest treasure of all was to be in that place - to know God's favor. Whatever else he had was worthless if he did not know God's grace in his life.

What he failed to understand was that God was determined to give him his favor. He didn't understand that he had no need to struggle to get it. Yet struggle he did, until he struggled with God. Through that great and final struggle, he received God's favor. He also received a limp, which would always serve to remind him of that incredible encounter with God that day.

Jacob's desire for God's favor in no way justifies his earlier lifestyle. But that's good news for us, since it is not our moral fiber or religious commitment that draws God's favor. What God is looking for is a heart that simply knows it needs him. If we are in that place, we are ready to encounter him. We are ready to receive his favor.

Jacob was a changed man because of this incident. Because of his desperation, he was willing to face God, and God was willing to face him. As a result, he received God's favor. Do you want God's favor? Maybe it's time to beg.

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