Parsha Vayishlach 5780

By: Dr. Jeffrey Buch

Vayishlach… And he sent…     Jacob sent malachim- Angels/Messengers onto his brother Esau, and when they returned to him, they related that Esau had 400 men and flocks and more.  Jacob was to meet his brother Esau the next day and it had been 20 years since they had last seen each other after Jacob traded a bowl of porridge to Esau for the birthright and blessings of the firstborn from their father, Isaac.  Jacob then became even more afraid of his fate, and at this moment, he entreated Hashem for protection in a state of complete humility.  So it is for Jacob, once again, he is only able to face the truth with humility when he is afraid for his life.  Is it not so, for many of us, that only in times of utter despair can we be humbled?  In this state of humility, or not, Jacob reminds Hashem that He has promised to make Jacob the father of a multitude and once again, Jacob bargains with Hashem for his life.

There is so much in this Parsha that we could focus on, but I prefer to focus on Jacob on this night prior to meeting up with Esau, who’s birthright Jacob had bargained to gain.  Please note that Jacob always seems to need to bargain for what he wants or needs.  That night, Jacob spent alone, having divided his family and flocks into two separate camps.  He encountered an unfamiliar angel that night and they wrestled until morning at which time the angel asked Jacob to be released.  In the course of their fight the angel had injured Jacob’s hip.  Jacob would only release the angel once the angel had blessed him.  The angel then blessed him and changed Jacob’s name to Israel, for he had wrestled both man and G-d and had prevailed.  This fits with the Jewish tradition that in extreme circumstances changing one’s name can change one’s destiny.  He is no longer Jacob the trickster or Jacob the bargainer, he is now Israel, the father of a nation.

There is much discourse from rabbinic sources as to who this angel was.  To some, this was Esau’s messenger-angel and to others simply G-d’s messenger.  To still others, and this is my position, the angel was Jacob’s deceitful/sinful self, wrestling with Jacob’s aspirational self who desires to change the course of his life.

When we look at Jacob this way, we can also see and acknowledge our own imperfections.  We can see and acknowledge those temptations that prevent us from actualizing our better selves.  This is not a single night’s struggle for Jacob or for any of us.  Rather, this is an every-day and seemingly moment to moment struggle.  In every situation, in every moment, there are decisions to be made in which our better angel is wrestling with our darker more selfish angel.  When our better angel wins the moment, we find it easier to be at peace and we can love ourselves.  Such is the truth of life.  Every moment, with every decision can be a Holy moment.  Holiness is the essence, and the good is its expression.

When we learn to behave in the moment, guided by Holiness…  When we make the right decisions…  That is when we learn to love ourselves, and then we can love one another.  This establishes the relationships within our family, our community, and the world at large.  Truth and love are the Holy essence of the Human experience, as manifested in good actions that result from good decisions.

Shabbat Shalom