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Deal or no deal?

Deal or no deal? No, not another Brexit dvar torah (but fear not, I’m planning to comment on the British elections next week) but rather a question referring to our patriarchs and their relationship with God.

In this week’s parasha, Vayetzei, Jacob makes a vow, saying: “If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house—the LORD shall be my God. And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, shall be God’s abode; and of all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You.” (Genesis 28.20-22)

Jacob’s promise is very clear: if God looks after me then he’s the God for me. I need food and clothing, shelter and safety. And in return I will worship God and pay my shul fees. How many of us think like this, I wonder?

Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, was a little less transactional, but not as much as we may think. As we know from the beginning of parashat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12), God said go! And Abraham went. He didn’t even ask how far the journey would be. But Abraham was already told his reward, namely that he would be a great nation and be blessed, and he accepted his fate without question. But in a lesser-known part of the portion (Genesis 15), Abraham does ask God: “What will you give me, seeing that I am childless?” (15.2) God gets the hint, and reassures Abraham about his paternity, reminding him that his seed will become a great people.

And as for you and me, repeating our prayers, how shy are we to ask God directly or indirectly for what we want? In our daily Amidah we petition God for a number of different blessings. You just read them – the thirteen central paragraphs of the Amidah. In the traditional version this includes: understanding, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, healing, annual produce, the ingathering of the Diaspora, justice, the destruction of the heretics, support for the righteous, a rebuilt Jerusalem, and the imminent arrival of the Messiah. The Reform version is more nuanced on the latter part of this wish list, but the sentiment still holds. When times are good, we acknowledge God’s role in our bounty. But when times get tough…?

There is a testament written during the last hours of the Warsaw Ghetto by Yossel Rackover. He said: “I believe in You, God of Israel, even though You have done everything to stop me from believing in You…I should like to say something more: do not put the rope under too much strain, lest, alas, it may snap. The test to which You have put us is so severe, so unbearably severe…”

The Warsaw Ghetto is very far from our patriarch, Jacob who, at least as a young man, seems quite a happy-go-lucky character. God was his God due to everything that had come to Jacob. At the other extreme, God was still Rackover’s God, despite everything that had come to him.

And as for us, deal or no deal, we find ourselves somewhere in between. But each morning and night we remind ourselves: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad. God is our God, God is One. But also (from the Aleynu): Hu Elohenu, Eyn Od – God is our God – there is no one else. Bashamayim mima’al v’al Haaretz mitachat eyn od – in the heavens above and on the earth below – eyn od, there is no other God. Deal or no deal – like it or lump it - there is no other God.

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