Question: In “L’David Hashem Ori” – which we recite from the beginning of Elul until Shemini Atzeret – we read the following: “Bikrov alay me’reim le’echol et besarai – When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh.” Why does the verse use the word “me’reim”? Why not use “resha’im” or “anashim ra’im” instead?
Summary of our response up to this point: Last week we discussed why we recite “L’David Hashem Ori” at the end of our daily prayers from the beginning of Elul through Shemini Atzeret. We explained that the prayer’s summation of King David’s yearning for closeness with Hashem (verse 4) and other allusions to returning to Hashem make it a very suitable conclusion to our prayers at this time of year.
In Parshat Vayishlach, we find that Jacob is afraid as he prepares to confront the wicked Esau and prays to Hashem (Genesis 32:12): “Rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children.” Rashi comments that Jacob repeats himself – “from the hand of my brother, from…Esau” – because Esau’s behavior towards him was not that of a brother, but rather that of the notably wicked Esau.
But why was Jacob’s afraid? Did he distrust Hashem’s tripartite promise to the patriarchs that their progeny will become a great nation?
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Something of a solution to our dilemma might be found in the Gemara (Berakot 4a), which quotes Psalms 86:1-2: “Tefillah l’David….shamra nafshi ki chasid ani – A prayer of David: …Guard my soul for I am pious.” In this psalm, David confidently declares his piety. However, in “L’David Hashem Ori” (Psalms 27:13), David seems to express the opposite sentiment, stating, “Lule he’emanti lir’ot be’tuv Hashem be’eretz ha’chayim – Would that I had trusted that I would see the goodness of Hashem in the land of the living [i.e., the World to Come].”
The Gemara asks; How can David proclaim his piety in one verse and doubt his entry into the World to Come in another?
The Gemara cites R. Yose, who taught: “Why are there dots over the word ‘lule’? David said before the Holy One Blessed Is He: Master of the universe, I am sure that You will well reward the righteous in the World to Come, but I have no idea if I have a portion amongst them. [Why?] Perhaps I will be excluded due to some sin.” Rashi explains that the dots over “lule – would that I” diminish the intent of the verse, making David’s reward questionable.
In a similar fashion, the Gemara cites two seemingly contradictory verses about Jacob. We cited the first one above (Genesis 28:15): “Ve’hineh anochi imach u’shmarticha b’chol asher telech va’hashivosich el ha’adama hazot ki lo e’ezavcha ad asher im asiti eit asher dibarti lach – Behold, I am with you; I will guard wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done that which I have spoken about [i.e., promised] you.” The other verse (Genesis 32:8) states: “Vayira Yaakov me’od – And Jacob was very fearful.” Why was he afraid? The Gemara explains that Jacob thought he might not be worthy of Hashem’s blessings due to some sin he may have committed.
This answer could also explain Jacob’s request of Hashem in Genesis 32:12, “Hatzileini nah miyad achi miyad Esav ki ya’rei anochi oto pen yavo ve’hikani em al banim – Rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children.” Jacob was not doubting Hashem’s ability to save him from Esau; rather, he thought he may not deserve to be rescued.
Yet, there would seem to be no comparison between the contradictory verses regarding David and the contradictory verses regarding Jacob. David contradicted himself; in one verse he expresses confidence while in another he expresses doubt. Jacob, on the other hand, contradicted Hashem.
And even if Jacob sinned, was that cause for worry? Shlomo Hamelech taught (Ecclesiastes 7:20): “Ki adam ein tzaddik ba’aretz asher ya’aseh tov ve’lo yecheta – For there is no man so wholly righteous on this earth who always does good and never sins.” Hashem knows the frailty of man and, consequently, a promise made by Hashem – not only to Jacob but to his father Isaac and to his grandfather Abraham, as well – is assured of being kept. This is especially so since the promise in question related to the future nation of Israel – the very reason Hashem created the world in the first place.
(To be continued)