We come to one of the most famous passages of Torah this week. Years after the manipulation of blessing and birthright, Jacob is returning to home and knows he must face his brother Esau. Family estrangement and the potential for reconciliation is played out here and, in so many families today. There is so much drama in this passage. Jacob wrestles with the infamous and mysterious ish, is wounded, prevails and is changed. How many commentaries have been written and sermons preached on these verses (32:25ff)! But for this moment we look again at a small but powerful word that we meet again as Jacob, standing at the edge of the River Jabbok, prepares to meet his brother. Jacob, like Adam in Genesis 2:18, is l’vado..he is alone.
This is a fascinating word and and an even more profund concept. What does it mean to really be “alone”? We are seeing so much of this being written about this now, an aloneness that speaks of isolation and being cut off from people and relationships. It is one of, if not THE, most powerful effects of the pandemic. But what of the spiritual sense of this word? How many of us ever stop to contemplate what this word means? Are we really alone in this world? Is this fear of being alone the cause for our desire to be in relationship with others? Is a fear of the “ultimate aloneness”, death, that propels our desire to achieve and leave legacy. Is this l’vado, this existential aloneness at the heart of our souls? Is this what Koheleth really meant when in Ecclesiastes he pronouned that everything is in vain? How do we wrestle with this reality as we live out our lives?
Look again at this passage. Jacob wrestles as he is alone. How often, in the quiet recesses of our own soul do we wrestle with our own identity, our own sense of who we are and wish to be? The genius of this Torah portion is that it opens us up to these questions and again to the reality that, in many ways, we are alone; and thus as Adam does in Genesis 2 and as Jacob does in our portion; we come to understand that it is not the material in life that brings meaning, but relationships and love. Be not afraid to wrestle with this idea. After all, we all may emerge changed.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.