2002Sometimes the relevance of our texts to us is not apparent. The text may not seem clear or applicable to us today. Yet every line and every sentence in our text has meaning to us. While we often must toil to find the text's significance to our lives, there are some Torah portions in which we can find a clear message, such as in this week's Torah portion, Parshat Vayishlach. We learn a lot about Jacob's personality and about the numerous challenges he had to face.
Be Ready, Be Prepared, Act Like Jacob
Here is one of the more astonishing moments in Jacob's life:
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, let me go, for the daybreaks. And he said, I will not let you go, except you bless me. And the man said to him, what is your name? And he said, Jacob. And the man said, your name should be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince you have power with God and with men, and have prevailed.
Your Torah navigator
1. Who was the "man" Jacob fought with?
2. What does the sun have to do with the "man's" request to leave (was he a vampire)?
3. How can the "man" change Jacob's name?
4. Can we change our names this way?
The Zohar brings out some facts about the fight between Jacob and the "man":
Zohar, Genesis, Section 1, Page 146a (Gen. XXXII, 25-26)
Observe how great Jacob's merit must have been. For his adversary was intent on destroying him completely. Samael thus came and attacked him, in order to destroy him utterly. Jacob, however, had strong support on all sides, on the side of Isaac and on the side of Abraham, both of who constituted the strength of Jacob. When Samael attacked Jacob's right he saw there Abraham equipped with the strength of day, being of the side of the Right, the same being Mercy (Hesed). When he attacked his left, he saw there Isaac with the strength of stern judgment. When he attacked in front, he found Jacob strong on either side by reason of those surrounding him.
Your Zohar navigator
1. Who is Samael? Who does he represent? Why did Samael attack Jacob?
2. What makes Abraham a man of Mercy? What makes Isaac so judgmental?
3. How do Isaac's and Abraham's attributes affect Jacob?
Jacob, father of the twelve tribes, has the most fascinating life. Everything seems to happen to him, for example: He deceived his father in order to get the blessings from him with his mother's guidance. He ran away from home for fear of his own brother with both of his parents' recommendation. He had the world's worst father-in-law, whom he manages to outsmart, with the help of his wives. He had a fight with an angel (which he survived thanks to sunrise). He had a warm welcome from his brother and four hundred "friends." He had a daughter who was raped by a prince and two sons who take revenge on the prince and the entire city. And to top it all, Jacob's favorite child was kidnapped and sold to Egyptians by his other children (without his knowledge).
Jacob, like every other human being, has to deal with life, and cannot avoid it. In most cases, he has to take action, which we all know is not always a simple task. Even if we try to get into Jacob's shoes, we realize quickly enough that he had to have been quite a person. He had to be a cunning man, a wise man, a kind man, a caring man, a politician, a father, a brother and a husband. We need to understand that Jacob had all of these attributes and that he struggled with his life to become the true father of our people. Jacob's fathers (Isaac and Abraham) had their own respective trials but Jacob's trials are much more "real life" ones. They encompass all aspects of life from birth to death, happiness and sadness, good and evil. And all of his tribulations have to do with familial issues.
The lesson we learn from Jacob is not an easy one. We have to work hard on this lesson to make it our own. We have to be ready, to be prepared, to be vigilant, and to care enough to change our environment for the better. The most important part of this task is learning how to better our Jewish "family."
Jacob's first and foremost responsibility is to his family. All of his actions had to do with his family. Regardless of how he manages it, it's all about the family's future! It is the same for us today, thousands of years later. We have to be ready to help our collective family - Jews around the world. We cannot close our eyes to their needs. It does not matter whether they are in Israel, England or Argentina. When our fellow Jews are in trouble, it is our obligation as Jews to care and take action to help our brothers and sisters.
Prepared by Rabbi Meni Even-Israel, Campus Rabbi/Jewish Educator, University of Maryland, College Park.