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    How can I be God? – Vayyetzei

    Jacob & Rachel at the well, by James Tissot, c. 1896

    Jacob loves Rachel but she has difficulty falling pregnant. She says, “Give me children or I will die” (Gen. 30:1).

    Her loving husband gives an apparently unsympathetic response, in fact more of a retort: “Am I in the stead of God who has denied you the fruit of the womb?”

    The sages try to justify the seemingly harsh tone of Jacob’s reply. They wonder whether Rachel’s original cry was an accusation, blaming her husband for not praying hard enough for her.

    It is impossible to imagine that he had not prayed over and over again. Maybe what he is saying is, “Of course I have prayed, but no-one can force God’s hand. It is inconceivable that He has not heard, but maybe the answer, for the time being at least, is No, and we have to accept the answer in love and patience.”

    As we now know, the story later has a happy ending, and Rachel does fall pregnant – not only once but twice.

    What can we learn from the story, apart from the human dynamic of a distressed wife saying things the wrong way and a pious husband shocked that she should question the Divine will?

    One lesson is that human beings should never expect others to be God or to twist God around their little finger.

    I have to say that there have been times in my life when people thought that I as a rabbi had the power to make the Almighty do something or not do it.

    The occasions were often to do with the weather – “Rabbi, make sure that God gives us good weather for the picnic!” At such times one could be facetious and everyone would end up laughing at human presumptuousness.

    Other times the situation was much more grave and one really prayed hard and yearned that God would send healing or comfort to good people caught up in crisis. Tragically, the answer was not always “Yes”.

    The rabbi knows he does not and cannot control the Creator. If I could control God, I would be God. I have no such pretensions.

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