#BringThemHome – Day 55
Ilana and I have been quite overwhelmed this week by the extraordinary prescience of this week’s Parasha.
As I have written often, as have so many before across the centuries, the weekly Parasha is not just a cycle of Torah readings – it is a guide to both the week’s happenings and the responses we are to take from them.
The words, the stories, the characters are instructive in ways that often become clear ONLY in the context of personal, national or global events. We learn lessons from the Parasha, and, in a format that Rabbi Sacks perfected, they become the Covenant that we reaffirm, and the Conversation that we need to be a part of.
In so many ways, the episode of apprehension and genuine fear that Jacob experiences in anticipation of meeting his brother Esau after 22 years is palpable in Genesis and palpable in these very days.
The episode takes place in chapter 32 of Genesis. Jacob has been told that Esau is “coming to meet him” as follows:
וַיָּשֻׁבוּ הַמַּלְאָכִים אֶל־יַעֲקֹב לֵאמֹר בָּאנוּ אֶל־אָחִיךָ אֶל־עֵשָׂו וְגַם הֹלֵךְ לִקְרָאתְךָ וְאַרְבַּע־מֵאוֹת אִישׁ עִמּוֹ׃
The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and his retinue numbers four hundred.” (Gen. 32:7)
Sforno comments that the words “coming to meet you” have a hostile intent:
וגם הולך לקראתך, not only have we seen him, but he did not react with satisfaction when we told him about your wealth. But, וגם הולך לקראתך עם ארבע מאות איש, he also marches toward you with 400 men in order to attack you. The expression לקראת meaning to approach with hostile intent is repeated in Numbers 20,20 when again Edom (Esau) is threatening the Israelites.
As a result, Jacob adjusts his strategy and prepares in three ways for his meeting: gifts, prayer and splitting his camp into two sections.
And the night before the fateful meeting, Jacob has an encounter:
וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּוֹ וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר׃
Jacob was left alone. And a figure wrestled with him until the break of dawn. (ibid. v25)
It was Jacob’s feeling that he was all alone, despite God’s promise that He would protect him.
Even with all of the promise of protection from God Himself, even the greatest leaders in our history have felt a sense of being alone.
There are no words to describe the parallel that we are experiencing in these days. Surrounded by love, a sense of togetherness, a shared destiny. This is a global Jewish feeling, and yet, even with God’s protection promised, we feel very alone.
Jacob emerges from the struggle with a limp, given to him by the angel with whom he is wrestling.
We will emerge victorious, but we will carry the memories and the scars for ever.
It is what makes us whole. The ability to carry on and take our experiences, our pain and our joy, with us across the generations.
The Jewish people is for all eternity.
Never forget that, and celebrate it wherever and whenever you can.
Shabbat shalom u’Mevorach.
Am Yisrael Chai