This parashah in the Torah, Vayishlach reminds us of our humanity – of our fears, desires, aspirations, dreams, our internal struggle and our social condition. But the most beautiful thing about it, is that it teaches us how to overcome our adversities, how to become better people, better parents, better children, better siblings and that we can leave a healthy legacy behind to others.
I read a commentary written by Rabbi Avi Geller that says “the Jewish survival lessons that we learn from here are relevant to this day. The Talmud says that when the Sages had to meet Roman officials, they first reviewed this parashah. When Menachem Begin became the prime minister and went to his first official meeting with President Carter, he met first with the Torah sages of America. They suggested that he read Parashat Vayishlach! ” So, I thought, if this portion is important enough for our leaders and sages to read in order for them to be able to face difficult situations, it is because it truly holds treasures of wisdom which enable us to stand strong to deal with our problems. So, I set out to “dig” a bit deeper into Parashat Vayishlach, to see how it could help me cope with life’s challenges, and I discovered many interesting things:
The first step to move forward in our life, is to resolve pending issues that have marked us from our past. As humans, we tend to be like ostriches which when faced with danger, stick their head in a “hole” leaving the rest of their body exposed. Believing that they are hidden, they convince themselves that they are safe and protected. Yaakov left the land of Canaan without having solved his problems, problems that he avoided for 20 years under the “guise” of work (today we call it “workaholic”). Under the “excuse” that family is the most important thing, he dedicated himself to having children and multiplying his offspring. With the excuse” that it is too dangerous to return or “he had a good life”, he remained where he was. What is our excuse for not facing our reality? The first step of teshuva is the recognition of who we really are. We cannot always control the situation, but we are able to control our actions within it.
Chapter 32: 5 says “I lived with Laban”. The Talmud states that “lived” (garti גַּרְתִּי) contains the same letters as tariag תרי״ג (613), alluding to: “Although I lived in the house of the wicked Laban, I was very careful to observe the 613 mitzvot. ” In this case, Laban in my understanding, was the mirror for Yaakov’ to see his own life, so that as he lived according to his own nature which was to “supplant or be deceived”, these negative qualities helped him gain humility and be the reflection which inspired him to change.
When God tells him to go home, in chapter 32: 8 the Torah says: “Yaakov was very frightened and distressed.” It is normal when facing adversity to have stress even anguish; it is a natural emotion within us… to protect us, but I learn from Yaakov that one must continue their journey despite the fear and anguish; Jewish people never had the option to allow fear to stop them! I admire the Jewish people for their ability to overcome adversity. What other people in history have risen up so soon after almost being exterminated? And this happened, not once, but many times in their past: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Assyria, Greece, Rome, the Inquisition, the Soviet Union, Nazism, etc. God promises to accompany Yaakov, however this trust placed in Him, was not an excuse for Yaakov to stop thinking, planning, strategizing, even wondering – what happens if …? I love the phrase from our Rabbi Percy who said, “Dare to think”.
What were Yaakov’s strategies?
Number one: Knowing how to speak to the emotions of the person and not to the thinking mind. He speaks to his brother as lord (l’adoni l’ Esav לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו eight times), in a reverent tone, showing humility and change from being immature to mature. Respect, as Rabbi Percy would say, is the basis for a successful relationship, especially within the family. We have the misconception that by raising others up, that somehow makes us less, or is harmful to others, which is why we prefer to elevate their belongings “what a nice shirt, what a beautiful house …or ” their physical qualities “how good you look, what beautiful eyes…” or certain impersonal qualities:“ what a good doctor you are, or a good job you did… ”but few of us reach the level of speaking to the hearts of others:“ I want to thank you because you supported me; because you have a smile that brightens my day, etc. ”
Strategy 2. Showing humility. It says that Yaakov prostrated himself 7 times before his brother and that even his children bowed down.
Strategy 3. Knowing to whom and when to give. The expression here is not just buying something for someone, it is knowing what would please them; it is knowing the tastes of others and what to offer. Before introducing himself, Yaakov sent gifts 32: 6, 32: 17-22. This strategy helped soften Esav’s heart although it must have been very hard for Yaakov to reach out to him because the Torah refers to Esav as Edom. I would interpret this to meant that Esau had blood on his hands. How can you soften the heart of an assassin?
Number 4. Being ready to fight if necessary. Although we don’t choose violence as a means to achieve peace, we see that Yaakov divided his camp into two; the first one would be ready to make war on Esav in order to give the other a chance to survive. There must always be a strategy. The option “turn the other cheek” is not an idea from the Torah.
Strategy Number 5; Praying to God. Prayer is our main weapon in moving forward. Rabbi Noach Weingberg says: “Without assuming responsibility, we can disguise ourselves as righteous and use prayer as an escape from our obligations but this contradicts what our Creator wants from us.”
Strategy 6: Having to face ourselves “alone”. “And Yaakov was left alone (levado לְבַדּוֹ) and a man fought with him until dawn…” (32:25). This same word levado, is used in Isaiah 2:11 “And Adonai alone (levado) shall be exalted”. For some, it is not difficult to live alone and being “being alone” does not imply being lonely. When you see yourself in the mirror and you are in contact with you alone, you can search within, you can develop the ability to connect with God; you can have a heightened spiritual experience which allows you to see yourself as you are, without external prejudices. Great men saw God by being “levado” – alone like Moshe, Abraham, Itzhak, Yosef, David, and many more, like Yeshua who went “alone” into the desert to receive divine revelation.
Of the many interpretations about who the man was with whom Yaakov fought, one of them, was that he fought against his own Yetzer Hara, his evil inclination; he faced himself. From that moment, his name was changed from Jacob (supplanter) to Israel. Now Israel has several interpretations such: “ish ra’ah El,” a man who sees God “; or man who struggles with God” or “Yashar- El” – he who goes straight to God.
I believe that God gave us the ability to face ourselves, because the main obstacle that stands in the way of our growth and advancement is called the “I”, the “EGO”. May the Eternal give us the ability to face the past with wisdom and grow in this life, so that we stop being a supplanter to being blessed, to being people of the Eternal. This portion Vayishlach begins with “Yaakov sent”, but when we read the entire portion, we understand that God was the One who sent Yaakov out as He does with each one of us.