Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) It Takes Time To Grow Up And Face The Past

ancient statue of two men wrestling
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            This week’s portion takes us on a wild ride that goes from reconciliation to revenge. Jacob reconnects with Esau, wrestles with an angel/himself/his legacy, and has his identity “changed” only to be followed by the graphic and challenging story of Dinah.

            Much of this portion revolved around the meeting of Jacob and Esau after so many years of estrangement. There is the familiar Biblical motif of water (The River Jabbok), his being alone, the encounter with God and the eventual reconciliation. Jacob and Esau see that they have been blessed, the past remains in the past and they, in essence, agree to move on with their lives. The scene is powerful in 32:4 as the brothers see each other after so many years and they embrace and Esau kisses Jacob and they weep. Do they become closer as brothers? It does not seem so. They meet again in the portion to bury Isaac, reflecting so many stories of family estrangement that are resolved to a point but never is closeness achieved. People meet at life-cycle events, and then return to their lives; a story that is being played out in so many families now.

            There are many lessons for us in this portion. One that I want to offer this week is based on time and growth. In her masterful book “Wrestling With Angels”, Naomi Rosenblatt notes that reconciliation in families takes time. “It takes Jacob twenty years to work through his issues of sibling rivalry. His story shows us that reconciliation is not a passive process. Both sides must want it and be prepared for the pain of the process…Only after years of anguish and painful self-examination could they embrace and weep with relief in each other’s arms” (p.302)

            There may be people reading this now who are living the Jacob and Esau story. Perhaps the Torah is telling us that time changes us. We are not the same as we were. Jacob has grown, life has dealt him challenges and concerns that have allowed him to grow and mature and maybe realize what was important before, is not in the present. So too with so many of us. Maturation of our souls, the creation of a what we may call a “mature spirituality” is, we hope, part of each of our stories. How we “wrestle” with our pasts and emerge changed and renewed is a constant challenge, often played out in the depths of our souls.  But again, we have that choice to be open to wrestle with our pasts so that we can meet our future.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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