Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving and the Heresy of Entitlement III

[You can read this post on its own, or for the full effect begin the series here.]

Yaakov is praying for his life. "Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav!" But first he says this: קטנתי מכל החסדים - "I have been diminished by all of the kindnesses... for I crossed this Jordon River with my staff and now I have become two camps!" (32:11). Why is Yaakov saying this here? What does Yaakov's success have to do with Eisav's immanent attack?

Rashi explains as follows: Yaakov was afraid that God's many blessings, blessings which transformed him from a destitute refugee into a successful rancher with a large family, had used up - "diminished" -  his chips, and he now lacked sufficient merit to protect him from Eisav.

There is an obvious problem with this reading. If Hashem's blessings were indeed reward for Yaakov's mitzvos, then why does Yaakov call them kindnesses?! A kindness, by definition, is unearned and would  use up no chips at all.

There can be only one answer to this question. In his humility, Yaakov never assumed Hashem had given him free gifts; all that he received must have come as reward for his mitzvos. (Itself a most humble thought, for tzaddikim receive no reward for their mitzvos in this world. Cf. Kiddushin 39b; Rashi ad loc.) Nonetheless, Yaakov viewed reward itself to be a divine kindness! 

God owes us nothing at all. Ever. Even when He is rewarding us for our good deeds, it's still just a חסד.

ונראה להוסיף דאמירת "קטנתי מכל החסדים" קודם לתפילת "הצלני נא..." היתה בזה קיום של סמיכת גאולה לתפילה. יעיין תר"י ברכות דף ב ע"ב בדפי הרי"ף. ודו"ק  

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