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We are all Jacob

We are glued to the news. Hostages are released in groups. When will they all be home? How can the lives of these poor children ever be the same? How will these families ever find a kind of normalcy again? How do we find joy when so many are still held captive? When will the fighting end? Our mind is full of questions: How can we help? What can we do? How do we respond to the horrific levels of antisemitism we’ve encountered over these last many weeks? Maybe you feel lost. Maybe you feel afraid. Maybe you feel anxious. Maybe you don’t know what to feel. To put it simply, the Jewish people are struggling. We are wrestling with the news, our hope for a better tomorrow, the world we want for our children and grandchildren.

The template for all of it is laid out in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach. Here we have another member of our people who is feeling the weight of a harrowing world. Jacob is preparing to reunite with his twin brother; they are years removed from the hostile exchange they had when younger. If you remember, Jacob usurped the birthright that belonged to Esau. Dressing himself like his brother, he appeared before his aging father and received the blessing: ‘May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth.’ Esau is furious. We are told by Rebecca that he ‘is consoling himself by planning to kill’ Jacob.

Years have passed. They will finally reunite now. The night before their anticipated meeting, Jacob has a dream. He has by now attempted acts of diplomacy, sending messengers ahead to Esau. They report that Esau is approaching with 400 men. Jacob sends his family off to safety and offers a prayer: ‘Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother.’ (Here we see the myriad actions to take before ever arriving at physical force, the last resort). Jacob has tried it all. He fears for his life. In this dire state, he attempts to rest before the big day arrives.

That night, we are told, Jacob has a dream. Indeed, he is a dreamer, as we Jews have always been dreamers, seeing more than the world as is, but the world that might be. As he dreams, he encounters a mysterious being, perhaps an angel, perhaps his own consciousness. Is he wrestling with his past? Is he wrestling with God? Jacob is us, as he tosses and turns in the dark of the night. His world is desperately uncertain, as is ours. He wonders what tomorrow will bring, as we do.

At last, just before the sun comes up, Jacob overcomes the being. He will only let it go if it blesses him. The being changes Jacob’s name to ‘Yisrael,’ which means ‘the one who wrestles with God.’ It is a fitting name. Jacob very much wrestles with God, but also with people, with faith, with right action. He is striving to do good in a world that is complex and confounding. He is in a state of struggle all the time, as we are these days. He is asking big, hard questions, as we are.

Perhaps the message is to be like Jacob. On the one hand, let’s not shy away from all of the hard questions. Let’s keep wrestling. Let’s ask the questions and process together. Let’s say out loud how we’re feeling. Talk to me or the Cantor. Talk with friends. Join us at Torah study, a roundtable, Friday night services. Your questions and concerns are real and deserve to be heard.

On the other hand, let’s have the courage to keep dreaming. With great hope, let’s hold onto the vision of a more peaceful world, peace in Israel, less hate and misunderstanding. Let’s do as our people have from the beginning: See not only what is, but what can be.

Here’s to peace and to compassion in a world so in need of both.