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November 25, 1988 - Image 37

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-11-25

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

European & American
Designer

No Victory Is Achieved
Without Some Scars

ALICIA R. NELSON

Special to The Jewish News

S

piritual growth, an
appreciation for the
feelings of others, and
a deepening maturity make
Vayishlach, the eighth sidrah
of Bereishit, significant.
In verse 29, the name Israel
is first mentioned as it is
given to Jacob after he wrestl-
ed throughout the night with
a mysterious being.
Verse 33 explains that as a
result of Jacob's permanent
limp — a parting gesture of
Jacob's adversary — the

Shabbat
Vayishlach:
Genesis
32:4-36:439
Ovadiah 1:1-21

Children of Israel do not eat
the thigh muscle on the
socket of the hip.
In addition to the insights
we can learn by studying the
behavior of our forefathers,
we are given a basic guide in
our dietary code of kashrut.
As the portion begins,
Jacob's exile is drawing to a
close. During his years living
with Laban, Jacob has ac-
quired goats, cattle, sheep,
two wives, two maidservants
and 12 children.
Fearing that his brother
Esau may still be angry with
him, Jacob does all that he
can to insure a successful reu-
nion. Jacob sends servants
ahead with the message that
he approaches this meeting
with humility.
When the servants return
with reports that Esau is ap-
proaching with 400 men,
Jacob decides to divide his
household and pc sessions in-
to two camps for greater
protection.
And he offers God a humble
prayer — "Deliver me from
the hand of my brother," he
asks.
Jacob's prayer — one of the
few recorded in the Torah —
shows a sense of humility and
gratitude. As a result of his
earlier misfortunes, he has
grown in stature, in maturity
and in sensitivity to spiritual
realities.
Jacob sends generous gifts

Alicia R. Nelson is a board
member of the Women's
League for Conservative
Judaism's Michigan branch.

that he hopes will appease his
brother Esau.
Finally, as a last-ditch ef-
fort, Jacob takes his family
across the river to a position
of safety and returns to spend
the night alone in meditation.
At this point, the famous
struggle between Jacob and
the unknown being takes
place. This is the crisis in
Jacob's spiritual history.
The crossing of the river
and the mysterious wrestling
represent a step toward a new
experience.

Because in ancient times it
was believed that rivers were
infested by demons, it is like-
ly that Jacob thought he was
doing battle with such a be-
ing. But at the moment of
dawn, Jacob is blessed with
the understanding that it was
with God and his own moral
consciousness that he
wrestled.
But Jacob was never a man
to allow opportunities to pass
by. So he demands a blessing.
The heavenly being grants
his wish and changes his
name to Israel — meaning
one who strives with God and
prevails. Yet, as the angel
departs, Israel (Jacob) is left
with a limp, further symbolic
proof that Jacob has changed.
Our names and our physical
qualities determine to a great
extent who and what we are.
Jacob's change denotes a revi-
sion of his life's purpose.
Jacob, the selfish, the
manipulative and the sly
brother, has departed with
the dawn. In the struggle,
Jacob becomes Israel, the
patriarch.
Jacob limps toward his
brother with a repentant air
devoid of his previous deceit-
ful arrogance. Esau eagerly
makes peace with him and
they both return to Seir.
The gentle ending to the
tale seems to draw further at-
tention to Jacob's spiritual
struggle.
The night encounter,
described by Maimonides as a
prophetic vision, is in many
ways an allegory of the
universal human struggle at
the moment of a fateful deci-
sion. Some commentators say
that Jacob struggled with no
one but himself, emerging
from the fight purified in
soul. Yet, that does not take
into account God's role in
Jacob's struggle. Nor does it
explain the limp.
Clearly, Jacob has struggl-
ed and won. Yet, no victory
comes without scars. This
sidrah is proof of that.

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37

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