God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

In the beginning of Parshat Vayishlach, Yaakov was informed that his brother Esav would be approaching him with four hundred men. After not seeing Esav in over 20 years, Yaakov was not sure if Esav still wanted to kill him.

We read in Breisheet 32:8-9: "Yaakov was very frightened and distressed." We then read that Yaakov took the necessary precautions in order to ensure that he and his family would be safe. "He divided the people that were with him, along with the sheep, cattle and camels into two camps. He said, If Esav comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will survive."

Yaakov did not stop there. He prayed to God and reminded God of his promise to protect him. Breisheet 32:12: "Rescue me from my brother, from the hand of Esav, for I fear him, that he will come and attack me- mother and children alike."

Finally, Yaakov prepared gifts to send to Esav in order to placate him, Breisheet 32:19: ".It is a present sent to my master Esav."

Why didn't Yaakov just rely on God's promise to protect him? Why didn't Yaakov just pray? Why did he have to prepare for war as well as send gifts?

According to Rabbi Isaac Arama (the Akedat Yitzchak) who is quoted by Nechama Leibowitz, "Human initiative is called for and the lack of it where necessary constitutes sin.If a person works, they will be blessed. We see this as well from King David who did all that he could to escape from his enemies and Saul. King David did not just rely on the Divine promises of future success, since he knew that these only hold good for those who complement them by human efforts to the limits of moral capacity."

The same holds true in Israel today. God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people. However, we must take the initiative and do our part to take care of the land and protect it. This includes having strong leaders, a strong army and citizens who do what they can to contribute to society.

Prayer works, but prayer alone is not enough. God helps those who help themselves.