Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Health Dose of Torah–Vayishlach
When most people think about this week’s Torah portion, they immediately think of Jacob’s wrestling match with God. As God and Jacob wrestle, God proclaims our destiny. We are Yisrael – people who wrestle with God. We are to be a faithful people, which means that we have to pay attention and not blindly accept things – even if someone tells us that it comes from God. I refuse to believe that God wants us to do some of the things that people say God wants us to do. It is no wonder that this episode attracts lots of attention. When most people think about this week’s Torah portion, they immediately think of Jacob’s wrestling match with God. As God and Jacob wrestle, God proclaims our destiny. We are Yisrael – people who wrestle with God. We are to be a faithful people, which means that we have to pay attention and not blindly accept things – even if someone tells us that it comes from God. I refuse to believe that God wants us to do some of the things that people say God wants us to do. It is no wonder that this episode attracts lots of attention.
I was looking for something different this week. I do believe that I am faithful, though I am wrestling with some of the perversions being called religion these days. Once God tells us that we are supposed to struggle, there has to be more: there has to be a purpose.
In studying the great sage Rav Avram Kook, I found my hook. In what seems to be an innocuous text, As Jacob is approaching his brother, he tells Esau, “I have an ox and a donkey (Gen 32:6).” I understand how we pass over this phrase so easily. Why on earth would Jacob need to share this news with Esau? With all that has happened between them, this seems most trite.
Perhaps it is because it seems so weird a statement that it draws our attention? A little research spawns wonderful thoughts (at least I think so). In Breishit Rabbah (an early book of commentary), we read that the ox and the donkey are symbols. Jacob was not speaking about the material possessions he had amassed, but about something of far greater significance. The ox and donkey refer to two types of messianic perspectives. Why do we need two Messianic paradigms? And why these two animals? The ox is strong and plows the ground preparing the land for planting grains. The donkey was used to transport the grains in from the field.
Jacob sent his brother a message: “I am whole. I have learned that healing and redemption is a process. It takes effort and strength (of character) to create and effort to share the very essence of life.” Jacob had taken all of his life, and yet, here, preparing to wrestle with God, he finally gets it. He sent the wealth that he had stolen ahead to his brother. Stuff does not matter; love and respect matter.
Many scholars argue that Jacob’s epiphany comes in the midst of the match. God wrenches Jacob’s hip and changes his name to Israel. I would argue that the match could not have happened if Jacob had not already figured that there was more in this universe than his insatiable appetite to acquire other people’s belongings. He could never have wrestled with a God he did not acknowledge.
Perhaps this is the best reason to help us understand why, despite Esau’s promise to kill Jacob, despite the army Esau brought to accomplish the task, when they saw each other, all they could do was embrace. Esau, who had been cheated out of everything, understood his brother’s new found faith.
Now, we are not close to the Messianic Age, but I have to believe that if we spent more time engaging each other in live and respect, we would spend less time threatening each other or defending ourselves from being threatened. I have to believe that if we were truly people of faith, there could be no room for the conflict that threatens our security and even our very existence. It begins, though, with the need to realize that we are measured by who we are and not by what we have. It begins with coming to terms with prioritizing the sanctity of spirit over the compilation of power. Religion cannot have value if all it does is separate us from each other. Faith is supposed to help us engage each other with greater earnest. In short, I think we all need to get over ourselves and get in touch with each other. Shabbat Shalom.