Vayeitzei: Bread to Eat
Rabbi Berachya said: The Holy One, Blessed Is He, responded to each one of his (Jacob’s) requests. Jacob said: “If God will be with me”, God responded “Behold, I am with you”.
Jacob said: “And will guard me”, God said: “I will guard you wherever you go”, Jacob said: “And I return in peace to my father’s house”, God said: “and I will bring you back”.
Jacob said: “And will give me bread to eat,” but God did not respond to this request of providing sustenance. The Holy One, Blessed Is He, said: “If I promise him bread, what more will he ask of me,” and therefore He did not promise him sustenance. The Rabbis however said: God also responded to his request for bread, as it stated: “For I will not forsake you”, and this expression is a reference to sustenance as it is stated, “I have not seen a righteous man forsaken, nor his children begging for bread” (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayetzei #3).
Rabbi Berachya implies that the reason why God answered all of Jacob’s requests save for the request for bread is because He wanted Jacob to feel the need to turn to Him asking for sustenance. If Jacob had been promised that he would be provided in every way, he might have felt self-sufficient and this could have affected his communication with God.
Indeed, we know that the snake’s curse is that he eats the dust of the earth. No matter where he is, the snake will always find dust to eat. This means that he will never experience the need to turn to God to ask for nourishment. The essence of the serpent’s curse is that God is not involved in his life.
The Rabbis argue though, that God did indeed answer Jacob’s plea for bread by telling him: “I will not forsake you”. But there is a difference between being given the assurance that while in Charan God would provide him with three meals a day and between the promise of not being forsaken.
One can thus reconcile Rabbi Berachya’s view and that of the other Rabbis. Jacob can go into exile knowing that God will not abandon him, trusting that God will be involved in his life. But how does the righteous man accomplish “nor his children begging for bread”?
By not being granted an explicit vow concerning his food, Jacob will need to access the Divine Flow of sustenance by constantly attaching himself to God.