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Torah Portion: Vayishlach

Book of Genesis

Chaps. 32:4-36:43

December 16, 2016

            How important are dreams? For biblical man, including the ancient prophets, dreams and visions were the source of Divine communication. According to the Torah, Moses was the only human to have actually encountered God “Panim el Panim”/face-to-face. For everyone else it was dreams.

After 21 years, Jacob has finally mustered the courage to return to his former home and his brother Esau, whom he expects an act of revenge for the way he treated him those many years ago. On the eve of this sibling reunion/confrontation, Jacob finds himself left alone. Suddenly he is wrestling with a mysterious someone. Later commentators suggest this took place in a dream. As dawn breaks, Jacob is prevailing against the stranger. The contemporary Bible scholar Nehama Leibowitz suggests this struggle was with the spirit of Esau.   Other insightful scholars see this moment as an epiphany in the future life of Jacob.

The commentary in the Eitz Hayim Chumash writes, “ . . .this may be an account of Jacob’s wrestling with his conscience, torn between his human tendency to avoid an unpleasant encounter and the divine impulse in him that urges him to do the difficult but right thing.” In this instance, to risk the possibility his brother might do him harm for the sake of reconciliation. It has taken Jacob 21 years to wrestle away his self-doubts and find the courage to do what is right. Life is like that.

The above commentary goes on to say, “We can imagine Jacob saying to himself, “Until now, I have responded to difficult situations by lying and running. I deceived my father. I ran away from Esau. I left Laban’s house stealthily instead of confronting him. I hate myself for being a person who lies and runs. But I’m afraid of facing up to the situation. ” Most of us, like Jacob, encounter moments in our lives when we really do not like who we are or what we have become. In that awful moment there are two paths one can take. One is withdrawal into self-pity and lack of self worth, and the other is to challenge the forces that so cruelly shaped our self-image and self-esteem. In most instances these forces are not external but internal. No one can make you feel bad. Only you can allow yourself to feel bad. No one can rob you of self-esteem or confidence, only you can. As long as Jacob could place the responsibility for his fears on his brother Esau, he would never be able to reconcile. Only when he took ownership of the responsibility for his own fears was he able to confront his brother.

And what happened when Jacob and Esau finally met? “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.” (Gen. 33:4)

Rabbi Howard Siegel

© 2017 Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Richmond, BC, Canada
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