Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Torah Connection - Va-yishlah

Eeek, I am so behind in the Torah Connection!

Well, a couple of weeks ago was Parshat Va-yishlah.  Jacob is returning from his uncle Laban's house with his wives, children, and great property back to the land of Canaan, his childhood home.  Two separate encounters are described in this section.  One is the reunification with his brother Esau.  The brother who sold his birthright for a pot of lentil stew, and then threatened to kill him when Jacob received their father's blessing in his stead.  In anticipation of this encounter he prays to G*d, and sends lavish gifts to Esau.

The other encounter is more cryptic:

25 Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 26 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. 27 Then he said, "Let me go, for dawn is breaking." But he answered, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 28 Said the other, "What is your name?" He replied, "Jacob." 29 Said he, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed."

 Jacob was alone, yet "a man" wrestled with him all night.  Who is this man?  A traditional reading answers that this was an angel of G*d, a "divine being", sent to test him, and to bless him when Jacob passes the test.  Other readings say that he was simply alone, and wrestled with himself.  This was the struggle with himself as Jacob, defined by his relationship with his brother ("the Supplanter") redefines himself through his relationship with G*d ("Struggles with G*d").  This is his coming-of-age, as he puts his childhood finally behind him and becomes a man worthy of leading a new nation.

There is another possibility, which is that this man was none other than Esau.  Perhaps they did in fact wrestle mano-a-mano.  This was not a confrontation to be decided by proxy, but by the very individuals involved.  Through the pain of this struggle, both men came out with a different understanding of each other.  They now not only see each other's humanity, but each other's divine spark, as well.  Notice,

Your name will no longer be said to be Jacob, but Israel (Yisra'el). You have become great (sar) before God and man. You have won.'
Vayomer lo Ya'akov ye'amer od shimcha ki im-Yisra'el ki-sarita im-Elohim ve'im anashim vatuchal.

Jacob returned the question. 'If you would,' he said, 'tell me what your name is.' 'Why do you ask my name?' replied [the stranger]. He then blessed [Jacob].
Vayish'al Ya'akov vayomer hagida-na shmecha vayomer lamah zeh tish'al lishmi vayevarech oto sham.

Jacob named the place Divine Face (Peniel). [He said,] 'I have seen the Divine face to face, and my soul has withstood it.'
Vayikra Ya'akov shem hamakom Peni'el ki-ra'iti Elohim panim el-panim vatinatsel nafshi.

and later, in his daytime encounter with Esau,

'I have plenty, my brother,' said Esau. 'Let what is yours remain yours.'
Vayomer Esav yesh-li rav achi yehi lecha asher-lach.

'Please! No!' said Jacob. 'If I have gained favor with you, please accept this gift from me. After all, seeing your face is like seeing the face of the Divine, you have received me so favorably.
Vayomer Ya'akov al-na im-na matsati chen be'eyneycha velakachta minchati miyadi ki al-ken ra'iti faneycha kir'ot peney Elohim vatirtseni.

Jacob here openly acknowledges that seeing Esau is "like seeing the face of the Divine" -- "Pnei Elohim".

Is this not instructive for us today, as we agonize over the violence in our world, whether individual acts like the kindergarten massacre in CT,  or wars and state-sanctioned violence around the world?  We can transform the violent impulse when we see the other as both human and divine: "ki-sarita im-Elohim ve'im anashim vatuchal."

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