Shabbat-Table Talks: Vayishlah

To read last year's Table Talk on Vayishlah click here.


By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>


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.


Background: 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 life.


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.’”


Analysis: 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 was unworthy.


It 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”


 Ya’aqob 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.


What 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.


When 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 Entitled”


We 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.


In 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.


In 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 undeserving.

¨      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.


To read last year's Table Talk on Vayishlah click here.


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