Shabbat-Table Talks: Vayishlah
To read last year's Table Talk on Vayishlah click here.
By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Value: Attitude of “Qatonti”
(“unworthiness”) during prayer and in life. The Hebrew word “qatonti” is only imperfectly translated by
“unworthiness.” We might include the idea of “not deserving” and of
being “too small” in the translation to approximate more closely
Ya’aqob’s attitude in prayer. This attitude is necessary in prayer and is
very helpful in life as well.
Ya’aqob, hearing his scouts’ report that his brother Esav is coming to meet
him with four hundred men, fears the worst—that Esav intends to murder him.
Ya’aqob prepares his camps to minimize his losses and then prays to God. His
prayer displays the attitude of “qatonti” so necessary in prayer and in
Text: Beresheet 32:10-13
Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father
Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your native land and I will deal
bountifully with you’! I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so
steadfastly shown Your servant: with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan, and
now I have become two camps. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother,
from the hand of Esav; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and
children alike. Yet you have said, ‘I will deal bountifully with you and make
your offspring as the sands of the sea, which are too numerous to count.’”
Ya’aqob began his prayer by identifying that he is praying to the God of
Abraham and Isaac. (This is similar to what we do when we pray.) By mentioning
them, he is invoking their merit. Ya’aqob next mentioned God’s promise to
him that put him in the present situation of having to face his brother Esav.
Before making his request, Ya’aqob reflects upon his unworthiness. Ya’aqob
does not deserve that God do anything for him. He does not make demands upon
God. He is well aware that God has made him prosper beyond his imagination.
Nevertheless, Ya’aqob is in a dangerous situation that required God’s help.
Ya’aqob relied upon God’s promise to him to make his request, even though he
is only with the attitude of the undeserving supplicant that we can approach God
in prayer. We cannot expect God to respond to our prayers just because we made
them with great intention. We must not demand that God answer our prayers
because we deserve it, because we have done misvot or because we were good. All
of these things do not guarantee that God will do as we request in our prayers.
God has given us more than we can ever deserve, therefore, we can never
“demand” that our prayers be fulfilled.
Creating the Attitude of “Qatonti”
created the attitude of undeserving by focusing on his desperate situation when
he first crossed the Jordan. By focusing on how our situation has improved
throughout our lives, we can also gain the attitude of “qatonti.”
Some questions to ponder: What
did we do to deserve the ability to see? Imagine what we would give to be able
to see if we were blind. The ability to see, so often taken for granted is such
a great gift that we could not imagine what we did to deserve it.
did we do to deserve another day of life? Life itself is such a great blessing.
It is impossible to think we did anything to deserve it.
we see everything in life as a gift, given to us who do not deserve it, we stand
in complete gratitude to our Creator.
Rabbi Simha Bunim said: “I find in the Selihot a prayer which reads:
‘May He who answered Abraham on Mount Moriah answer me.” Had I been the
author of this prayer I would have worded it thus: ‘May He who has answered me
until now answer me at present as well.” There exists no person whom Hashem
had not answered many times. (_Spirituality of Imperfection_ p. 177).
Problems with the Attitude of “I am
should not have the attitude of “it’s coming to me” or “ I deserve
it.” This attitude, in addition to being factually wrong, is also a
prescription for unhappiness. We do not deserve the things we have but are the
recipients of God’s compassion and kindness.
prayer, the attitude of “entitlement” can only lead to disappointment and
possible disillusionment. In our estimation, we might deserve to be answered.
But, as we have discussed above, we really do not deserve anything.
life, the attitude of “I deserve it” might not always be based on an
objective evaluation of your work. You might think you deserve it, but in
reality, you did not work hard enough to deserve it. Thinking about how to
improve is a better alternative than arguing that you deserved better.
At school: Notice your
achievements and how far you have come. See poor grades as an opportunity to
improve, and not as a call to argue.
Life’s setbacks and problems
pale in comparison to the great goodness that God continues to give us. Even
under very difficult conditions most can say “qatonti” –“I am unworthy
of all the good that Hashem has given me.”
In prayer: We appeal to God, not
out of a sense that we deserve that He do our bidding, but with an attitude of
asking of His great beneficence to bestow upon us even though we are
¨ In family: In healthy families, the parents do so much for their children. An attitude of “qatonti” promotes appreciation of what we have rather than complaining about what we don’t. Of course, parents should also model this attitude.
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