Vayetzei – Don’t Ask for Too Much

This Dvar Torah is dedicated l’iluy nishmas Chana Chaya bas Chaim Yachnes, a woman loved by all who knew her, May she be a melitza yosher for gantz Klal Yisrael, amen.

Did you ever wonder why Rochel named her first child Yosef? In this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei the Torah states in perek 30:

23 And she conceived and bore a son, and she said, “G-D has taken away my reproach.” כגוַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתֹּ֕אמֶר אָסַ֥ף אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־חֶרְפָּתִֽי:
24So she named him Yosef, saying, “May Hashem grant me yet another son!” כדוַתִּקְרָ֧א אֶת־שְׁמ֛וֹ יוֹסֵ֖ף לֵאמֹ֑ר יֹסֵ֧ף יְהֹוָ֛ה לִ֖י בֵּ֥ן אַחֵֽר:

The Rashbam says that Rochel could have named him Asaf, for Hashem taking away her humiliation but she called him Yosef because she prayed to have another child so both names were in mind. Rashi adds: “She knew through prophecy that Jacob was destined to establish only twelve tribes. She said, “May it be His will that the one He is destined to establish be from me.” Therefore, she prayed only for another son [and no more]. — [from Gen. Rabbah 72:6]” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Ralbag, however, understands the pasuk as not saying that Rochel had prophesy, but rather the reason behind the prayer was purely practical. “It’s appropriate when asking for a favor or grace [from Hashem] to not ask for something big because maybe He will decisively reject giving the favor altogether. For this reason, you will find that Rochel only asked for one more son so that she will have at least one more child. She did not ask for many children. For this reason, you will find by Yaakov that he only asked from the Blessed Hashem for bread to eat and clothes to wear. For this reason, it’s observed that the blessing of a prophet is calculated according to the one receiving it because he will not beseech Hashem for an abundance of good, more than deserved.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Hashem is the All-knowingAlmighty, who can certainly do whatever He wants; therefore He has the ability to grant even a surplus of things if someone beseeches Him for that. Even if He doesn’t want to, or doesn’t think it is appropriate, why can a person not pray for an abundance of something and be satisfied with whatever he or she gets? It’s still connecting with Hashem and trusting Him, and if he doesn’t get all that he asks for; wouldn’t he be satisfied with what he does get? Why then does the Ralbag say he might get nothing if he asks for abundance? If one asks for a little and his or her prayers aren’t answered wouldn’t that person possibly question Hashem for not answering his or her prayers just as much as the person who asked for a lot and didn’t get all of it would seemingly question Hashem, which is probably why he or she will in the end get nothing?

It would seem that Hashem is unlikely to accept prayers asking for an abundance, but rather is ready to accept prayers asking for just what a person feels they need next. The reason must be because prayers for an abundance are really not full hearted, and are more of a general plea,on which people would be willing to accept whatever they can get. For this reason, Hashem might not give them anything if He sees their intent, kavana, is not pure and strong. Asking in this fashion creates an attitude and feeling that one doesn’t need to pray as hard as they should. But when one is asking for a little, just enough for the next thing he wants or needs, then his davening will be more authentic, with greater kavana, intent and emotion, and therefore Hashem will be more receptive. And if he sees Hashem isn’t answering his pleas, there is more of a chance that he will understand that he himself isn’t praying hard enough, and he will try to redouble his intent before giving up or settling for what he has.

This is why Rochel only asked for one more son and Yaakov only asked for food to eat and clothes to cover his back, and why the prophet can only ask for what the person deserves, since the intent of the recipient will be more authentic.