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Parashat Vayishlach

December 9, 2022
15 Kislev 5783
Genesis 32:4 - 36:43

Dear Friends,

Once more I turn to the teachings of others to find a path through this week’s Torah portion. The Torah portion is a familiar one: Parashat Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 - 36:43 (and he sent). The opening scenes are ones that I know well and can see in my mind’s eye -- the sending of gifts to a brother not seen for twenty years, time spent alone in preparation for that meeting and, finally, the meeting itself of the two brothers.

This past Shabbat, we once more heard the blessing crafted by Marcia Falk, as parents blessed their son on the occasion of his bar mitzvah. “Be who you are –and may you be blessed in all that you are.”

For Jacob, it is in this Torah portion that he accepts who he is, in much the same way that we wish that for ourselves and for our children. The ability to accept who we are and our own unique gifts is a lifelong journey. For Jacob who in all likelihood compared himself to his older brother for much of his life, the time alone before seeing his brother was a time to reassess. He was born holding on to his brother’s heel, always wanting that which was his brother’s, especially his father’s approval.

How appropriate then that his name was changed to Yisrael, "God wrestler", as the dawn broke and he prepared to see his brother for the first time in twenty years. His desire to be Esau became a thing of the past. As Shakespeare so aptly put it, “desiring that man’s art and this man’s scope. With what I most enjoy contented least…” (sonnet 29). After his dark night, wrestling with an otherworldly figure or with his own soul, Jacob emerged no longer wanting to be someone else.

Let us note that Jacob returns the blessing to his brother because he no longer needs it. He has gained clarity into himself. The blessing that Isaac gave Jacob was “Let peoples serve you, And nations bow to you; Be master over your brothers, And let your mother’s sons bow to you. (Genesis 27:29). When Jacob sees his brother, he bows down to him seven times, calls him my lord, and at the end of the conversation and exchange of gifts says “Please accept my blessing which has been brought to you…”(Genesis 33:11). If we look closely, we see that Jacob has returned the blessing to his brother for he no longer needs to be someone else. He can now be himself.

We all struggle with knowing ourselves and accepting who we are. For some of us this struggle is the struggle of a lifetime. But the outcome of the struggle, of the wrestling, is exactly what we see in Marcia Falk’s blessing – to be who we are and be all that we are. When we are able to do that, we are the strongest version of ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784