This week’s portion, one of the most dramatic in the Torah, comes to us with great depth. We witness the reuniting of Esau and Jacob. After years of estrangement, they prepare to re-engage. Jacob does not really know what he will find with Esau and so he is, the night before they meet, l’vado, alone not only without other people, but in truth, existentially. How does he engage his brother after all these years, the hurt, the deception? Of course the story is well known that at night, Jacob struggles or wrestles with….? The commentaries give many opinions, was it a man, an angel, himself? How many of us have wrestled with issues as we attempt to reconcile past hurts or divisions among family members?
I have no doubt that many rabbis will teach issues concerning this story during the upcoming Shabbat. As I thought about this passage (one of my favorites), I also reflected on last week’s portion, In this space we asked who holds you up, what angels do you have to support you? This week, the thought came to me to try and consider what we struggle with as we get older? With what do we wrestle, the result of which may often leave us “wounded” spiritually. Certainly, we are often changed (as Jacob’s is changed in a profound way as we witness in his change of name). We are of a time in our life when we are trying to deal with so many changes. We struggle with loss, both natural and imposed. We wrestle with changes in health, body and relationships’ maybe saying goodbye to some and engaging in new ones. We struggle to understand our own mortality and the rapidly limited time we have left while wrestling with what our own legacy will or can be.
This is not, as media may wish to portray, a quiet and leisure time. These struggles are with us, even though we may seek to repress them at times. Yet, Judaism welcomes these struggles. Jacob emerges changed. He reunites with Esau and, while they will never be close, they seem to understand that there is more to be gained by moving on from past hurts than by clinging to them. It is another aspect of another struggle: with what do we hold on to and with what do we let go? We are, as Jews, given the freedom to wrestle with these real life issues, and given the freedom to grow and change. It is the struggle to seek meaning that underscores our Jewish way of living. Do not fear that engagement. For in the struggle with meaning we can come to see a true sense of self at this stage of life.
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.