This week’s portion, Va’yishlach, contains some of the most dramatic stories in Torah. The highlight is the famous encounter between Jacob and Esau. This reconciliation, of sorts, plays out in Genesis 32 and 33. The story of the brothers, their estrangement and reconciliation is played out in many families to this day. Torah speaks to our world. The portion also contains a devastating tale of the rape of Dinah, one of Jacob’s children, and the revenge brought about on her behalf by her brothers. There are many moments of drama in this portion, yet, perhpas none has captured tradition’s soul more that the encounter by the River Jabbok, between Jacob and an ish. (man)
This ish has often been seen as an angel. Some commentaries see this ish as a representation of evil, perhaps also a spirit representation of Esau. Jacob is l’vado, alone, not only physically, but, in many ways, existential. It is the night before he is to meet Easu and he has been warned that Esau is bringing a large force. Other commentaries note that really Jacob wrestles with himself, it is a moment of spiritual transition and transformation; taking place, as others often do, by water. Jacob becomes Israel, wounded, as perhaps a reminder of his past choices. The result, however, is that Jacob is changed for the better as a result of his encounter with who or whatever this ish was. And what of us?
How interesting that this portion this year is read on the Shabbat the immediately follows Thanksgiving here in the United States. What can we make of this? Look back on our lives. Who was that person who, as a result of your encounter with them had a profound influence on yoru life? As a result if tha encounter, often by chance, you changed. I recall a professor at our seminary who in his teaching, gave students the permission to re-thing all that we held true. As a result, so many colleagues were given the gift of liberation from what was held to be always true. He taught that in the pursuit of our own theology, there was no right or wrong; that our beliefs were going to evolve and change and this was all good.
So who was that person in your life? Maybe it was a teacher, a friend, a parent? Was it a planed encounter or was it by chance? Looking back on our lives, we owe these people a debt of gratitude, for they helped guide us on our journey and, as we gather with friends and family, it is well to pause and say a todah rabah to those people who helped change the course of our life. And, while we are at it, to embrace those moments that we have lived that, we hope, have helped someone else.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
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.