Looking Back and Thanking God

Yael Eckstein  |  November 18, 2021

Yael Eckstein praying at Western Wall

Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. — Genesis 35:6-7

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” from Genesis 32:4—36:43.

As I get older, I find more and more value in hindsight. As the ups and downs of life are unfolding, it’s difficult to see the full meaning of what God is doing in our lives in real time. But as is so often the case, when we look back years later, we see the hand of God much more clearly.

One great idea that I heard from a Christian friend is to keep a prayer diary. A prayer diary is a record of what we prayed for on any given day. By keeping a prayer diary, we can look back on situations that came up in life and reflect, even years later, on how God worked everything out for the best. Then, when we thank God for what He has done, we won’t miss out on so many small things that might have been forgotten over time.

Looking Back and Thanking God

In this week’s Torah portion, we see Jacob returning to the place where he had prayed to God many years earlier, when he was running away from his brother Esau who wanted to murder him. At that time, Jacob was traveling alone, with nothing more than his walking stick, hoping to make it to his destination safely.

Imagine Jacob’s feelings at that moment. There he stood, at the very spot where he had slept. Alone and afraid, he had dreamed of the ladder to heaven and had prayed to God to protect him on his journey and to help him return one day.

As he now arrived at the place, the Bible makes a point of telling us that Jacob returned there, hu v’chol ha’am asher ito, “he and all the people who were with him.” While we knew that Jacob was traveling with his large family, the Bible stresses this point to highlight the fact that Jacob now returned to this place of prayer with a large family and great wealth.

So what did Jacob do? The Bible tells us that he built an altar and worshipped God with sacrifices. So much of our prayer lives focus on what we need in the present or in the future. Here Jacob teaches us the value of looking back and thanking God for the prayers He has answered in the past.

Your Turn:

Look back at a challenging time in your life and take a few minutes to thank God for how he guided you through.