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December 19, 1986 - Image 56

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-12-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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TORAH PORTION

Was Jacob's Encounter
A Struggle With The Self?

RABBI IRWIN GRONER

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-

n today's Torah reading,
Jacob leaves his uncle
Laban's house to meet his
twin brother, Esau, who had
previously vowed to kill him.
Along the way, "Jacob was
left alone and a man wrestled
with him until the break of
dawn. When he saw that he
had not prevailed against
him, he wrenched Jacob's hip
at its socket ... Then the
man said, 'Let me go, for
dawn is breaking.' But Jacob
answered, 'I will not let you
go unless you bless me.' Said
the other, 'What is your
name?' He replied, 'Jacob.'
Said he, 'Your name shall no
longer be Jacob, but Israel,
for you have striven with be-
ings divine and human and
have prevailed.' Jacob asked,
`Pray, tell me your name.'
But he said, 'You must not
ask my name!' And he
blessed him there." (Genesis
32, 25-31).
The big mystery: Who
fought Jacob?
The Midrash and the lead-
ing commentator of the Mid-
dle Ages, Rashi, say that
Jacob was battling the spirit
of Esau. Thus, Jacob experi-
enced the entire struggle
throughout Jewish history
between the Jew and his
enemies, with Jacob repre-
senting the Jewish people
and Esau representing the
hostile nations who vowed to
destroy us. Although they
struggle the whole long night
of the bitter exile, and Jacob
is maimed, ultimately with
the rise of daybreak, repre-
senting redemption, he
emerges victorious.
Modern Jewish commen-
taries, however, emphasizing
Jacob was left alone, believe
that the whole episode was
an internal struggle. Jacob
was fighting the spirit of
Esau within himself. Esau,
who gave up his birthright
for a mess of pottage was a
creature of impulse, who re-
quired immediate gratifica-
tion. His desires must be
satisfied now. But Jacob un-
derstood that one must sac-
rifice the present to achieve
the fulfillment of the future.
Yet, Jacob, like all men,
was the child of two worlds,
of earth and heaven. He
could be party to a cruel hoax
played on his father and
brother. He fought Laban's
treachery with crafty
schemes of his own and, at
times, he became weary of
sacrifice, dedication and de-
layed gratification.
But, on the other hand,
Jacob was capable of great
moral growth, of profound
spiritual achievement, for he
had visions of a God whose
word he would preserve and

Irwin Groner is rabbi at
Cong. Shaarey Zedek.

56

Friday, December 19, 1986 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

whose truths he would
transmit to his descendants.
There resides within every
Jacob a little bit of Esau.
Jacob knows that he is going
to meet his brother the fol-
lowing day. He struggles all
night with the possibility of
joining forces with Esau, of
giving up the struggle of es-
tablishing a separate identity
and forming an independent
theology and life-style. By
naming us Israel (one who
struggles), the Torah teaches
us that we will always have
to struggle with our appetites
and desires.
Therefore, the moment of
victory is not in Jacob's sub-
duing of the mysterious ad-
versary. It is achieved in the

Shabbat
Vayishlach:
Genesis
32:4-36:43;
Ovadiah 1:1-21

bestowing of the blessing
which constitutes the victory
over darkness and fear. And
what is the blessing? A
change of name which is
nothing less than a change of
essence, of personality. Jacob
emerges transformed as a'
man, and that transformation
is the essential lesson of the
story.
This lesson bears renewed
emphasis in our day. Modern
man has conquered nature,
but cannot evade the chal-
lenge of "how do I deal with
my selfhood?" The lives of
many people can be described
as running away from self-
confrontation, the confronta-
tion that Jacob underwent on
that fateful night which
enabled him to achieve a new
awareness of his identity. A
great psychiatrist once said:
"Our problem is not primar-
ily to fit a man to face his
environment, but to fit a man
to face himself."
Each of us needs to dis-
cover in experiences of self-
encounter those truths that
will enable us — as they
enabled our forefather Jacob/
Israel — to move forward on
the journey of life victorious,
unafraid, and bearing Divine
blessings.

Waldheim
Visit Hit

Washington — B'nai B'rith
International said it was
stunned that the United Na-
tions office in Vienna has in-
vited Austrian President
Kurt Waldheim to be guest of
honor at a ceremony Jan. 30
commemorating Trygve Lie,
the first secretary-general of
the U.N.
Seymour D. Reich, B'nai
B'rith president, stated that
"honoring Waldheim, at this
or any other function, does
enormous dishonor ."

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