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Parashat Vayishlach

November 19, 2021
15 Kislev 5782
Parashat Vayishlach
Genesis 32:4 - 36:43

Dear Friends,

When I think about Jacob and his large family, I imagine a man who is in over his head, trying to make sense of the incredibly complex life that he is living. Having four women as mothers to your twelve (soon to be thirteen) variously aged offspring and living with your father-in-law as an effectively indentured servant is a lot!

Of all of the patriarchs, Jacob’s parenting style leaves a great deal to be desired, but then I wonder -- how would I handle such a complex home environment? If we stop and take a moment, we realize that each of us also has burdens of various types with which we struggle, leaving us less than perfect, no matter what we aspire to be. When examining Jacob through this lens, my sympathy for him increases and I realize that he is more like the rest of us than I ever would have thought.

In this week’s Torah portion Vayishlach (And He Sent), Jacob has left his faher-in-law’s land and is expecting to meet his brother Esau for the first time in over twenty years. He is understandably uneasy and cleverly devises a plan where his gifts reach his brother before he and his family do. In preparing for this momentous meeting, Jacob spends time alone, where he meets an “ish” -- the Hebrew word for man. However, we are never told exactly who this “ish” is. What we do know that is that Jacob wrestles with him and as the sun begins to rise, Jacob is given a new name, Yisrael -- one who has wrestled with the Divine. 

Jacob has been wrestling with the Divine throughout his life and will continue to do so as he goes forward. His path is never a simple or straightforward journey and neither are his responses.

Over the last number of weeks, the notion of wrestling with the Divine has been on my mind and in my heart. The road ahead is never entirely clear and there are always obstacles. The challenge for each of us is how we navigate them. Could my unease with Jacob be that he is each of us? We all wrestle with the Divine, wrestle with creating meaning in the midst of chaos, and wrestle to bring our best selves forward.

Yisrael -- God wrestler -- is a powerful image. Our responses to what occurs in our lives are our own to make and sometimes we must wrestle to find a path forward. Ultimately how we respond is up to us. Although we may not agree with all of Jacob’s choices, his humanity and his struggle remind us that we are not alone and that all of us are striving to find the best path forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, December 3 2022 9 Kislev 5783