Turning Tears into Action: Fulfilling the Vow of Yaakov Avinu

By: Emily Goldberg  |  October 14, 2023

By Emily Goldberg, Publication Manager and Layout Editor

No words. 

There are no words to describe the atrocities that have been committed against innocent people over this past week. There are no words that I can say or write that are going to be comforting enough during this time of immense sorrow. I cannot even begin to understand the nightmare that has unfolded before our very eyes, let alone attempt to express the thoughts that are racing through my mind in writing. As a writer, this loss of words is one of the most heart wrenching feelings I have ever experienced. I find myself struggling over every letter wondering if my sentences could ever fully express the emotions that I am feeling – that Klal Yisrael is feeling – at this moment in time. Wondering if any article that I manage to compose, could ever fully capture the immense tragedy that has now taken its place alongside the many others in the history of the Jewish people. 

There are no words that can completely encapsulate how shattered I am for my family, friends, and Bnei Yisrael, who are deeply affected by this devastation. There are no words strong enough to express my inner plea to God to protect those fighting in the midst of a war. There are no words effective enough to console the overwhelmingly vast number of individuals who are now in mourning.  

I have no words. The ink that was meant to inscribe each and every letter of this article has been replaced by tears falling onto the page in their stead. 

In heartbreaking times such as these, filled with confusion and grief, there is only one place we can ultimately turn for reassurance. The only words that will be able to encourage and comfort during such a tragedy: the words of the Torah. 

In Bereshit, chapter 28, we read about a dream that Yaakov has while traveling from Be’er Sheva to Charan. In verse 15, God tells Yaakov, “remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land,” referring to the land of Israel (Bereshit 28:15). When Yaakov wakes up from his dream, he makes a vow, promising, “I will return in peace to my father’s home and the Lord will be my God” (Bereshit 28:20-21). Clearly evident within these two verses is the bidirectional responsibility between God and the Jewish nation. Even before Yaakov Avinu makes his vow to God, God makes His vow to Yaakov. 

God’s promise is clear. No one can hurt Bnei Yisrael because He is protecting and watching over us. Our enemies cannot take Israel away from us because God promised Bnei Yisrael that it would be ours forever. Everything God does is to bring us closer to the fulfillment of this promise. There is nothing to fear because God is with us always. At the same time, we must not rest until we uphold our end of the vow made by our forefather Yaakov. 

In the First Introduction to his work Eim Habanim Semeichah, HaRav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal zt”l Hy”d, who himself was a victim of antisemitism, murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, comments on this vow made by Yaakov Avinu. He notes that Yaakov “swore that he would return to Eretz Yisrael” and “enhance its glory… By taking such a vow, he hoped to arouse the merit of Eretz Yisrael so that it would free him from distress” (Eim Habanim Semeichah: On Eretz Yisrael, Redemption, and Unity, an abridged version). Consequently, it is our responsibility as the descendants of Yaakov, to do everything in our power to defend Eretz Yisrael and show the world the beauty and kindness inherently embedded throughout the land. The heartwarming thing is, despite all of the horrid things that have occurred this past week, I have seen this promise made by Yaakov come to life in extraordinarily inspiring ways. The Jewish nation has united not only in steadfast support of upholding the basic principle of morality that should be evident throughout humankind, but to defend and uplift the merit of the land of Israel as well. By doing so, we continue to fulfill the vow made by Yaakov until this very day. 

HaRav Teichtal stresses that each and every Jew must “desire the beloved Land that we inherited from our forefathers” (Eim Habanim Semeichah, First Introduction, italics for emphasis). The word “desire,” signifies a very important detail in our obligation towards Eretz Yisrael, especially for those of us not residing there currently. Similar to myself, I am sure that many others have felt a sense of helplessness being so far away from Israel at this time. However, the word “desire” emphasizes that simply yearning to be closer to Eretz Yisrael and help our homeland, is in and of itself a very powerful thing. Our longing is impactful, no matter where we are in the world. The yearning to build up Eretz Yisrael and glorify it in the eyes of the world, explains HaRav Teichtal, is exactly the essence of the vow that Yaakov Avinu made to God. In return, God protects and comforts Bnei Yisrael in times of hardship. 

In this light, our actions, especially the ones that mimic those of our ancestors, are extremely influential. In return, God will ensure that all of the promises He made to our ancestors extend onto us, their descendants, throughout time. 

I will wake up every morning and rush to pray just as “Avraham hurried to the place where he had stood before the Lord” (Bereshit 19:27). 

I will plead with God in times of hardship just as “Yitzchak pleaded with the Lord” (Bereshit 25:21). 

I will promise to follow the will of God as best as I can just as Yaakov vowed “the Lord will be my God” (Bereshit 28:21).

If we do our part, just as our ancestors did, God will fulfill His ultimate promise to Bnei Yisrael: 

“Ki et-kol-ha’aretz asher-atah ro’eh lecha etenenah ulezar’acha ad-olam.”

“For all the land that you see, to you will I give it, and to your descendants, forever” (Bereshit 13:15).     

May the day come when the prophecy of the entire Jewish nation’s homecoming to Eretz Yisrael will be fulfilled. Where Bnei Yisrael will reside in Eretz Yisrael in peace, eternally