Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayishlach

Ill and near his death, the Great Rabbi Zusia’s students came to his side to find him crying. In loving earnest for their teacher, they inquired why he was crying. He replied that he was concerned. “I am about to meet God, how God will God judge my life.” “Rabbi! You are as great a teacher as Moses! You are as wise as Solomon! You are as great a leader as was Deborah!” Zusia looked at them, “It does not matter how I stand up compared to Moses, Solomon, or Deborah. God will not judge me by their lives. God will want to know if I have been true to the best that Zusia knows to be.”

Our patriarch Jacob had to learn this lesson the hard way. He spent a lot of years trying to be like his older brother, Esau. Yes, they are twins, but Esau was the elder. Jacob came out, though, clutching Esau’s heel; trying to become the first born. Jacob cheated his brother out of the birthright so that he could usurp the role of the eldest. Later, he deceived his father and cheated his brother out of the blessing; again to push his brother’s rights aside. Esau had four wives. Jacob ended up with four wives. So long as Jacob focused on trying to supplant his brother, his life filled with strife. Alienated from his family, deceived by his father in law, and fought over by his wives, Jacob struggles to find value and meaning in life.

This week, he struggles with himself. Jacob wrestles with God, and in the process sustains an injury. He came to realize his need to regroup and rethink his direction. When he left home, Jacob doubted that God existed … for him. This week, our patriarch struggles mightily with God and finds faith. He named the site “Peniel.” This was the place that he met God. Jacob returned his brother’s inheritance through the gifts he sent ahead of his own encounter with his brother. He blessed his brother with love and honor, affirming the proper order of birth honor due Esau. Jacob said, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of an angel, and you have accepted me.” Jacob is a new Jacob. Jacob faces adversity head on and speaks with integrity. Jacob learned that he has to account for being Jacob. Jacob becomes Israel.

How many of us live our lives vicariously through someone else? How many of us long to walk in someone else’s shoes? So many of us spend more time trying to be like someone else, that we forget who we are. God created each of us to be unique; we cannot ever fit comfortably into someone else’s spiritual, cultural, intellectual, or emotional DNA. We can never replicate another, and trying to do so is one of the greatest blasphemies and transgressions. Every time we expend energy trying to be like someone else, we diminish the value of the “self” that God created uniquely for each of us.

To live; to fully appreciate the blessing of being, I must fully appreciate the blessing of being me. I cannot grow, I cannot celebrate, I cannot be, if I have no intimate relationship with who I am. Shabbat is a time to renew and restore; to rethink and refocus. Shabbat is a time to set aside the struggle to compete with our neighbors. It is our time to focus on wrestling with the best that each of us can become for ourselves. Shabbat is a time to make ourselves more secure, more engaged, and more whole. Shabbat Shalom.