13/14 Dec: Vayishlach: Shabbat comes in 3:36 pm, ends 4:46 pm
Parashat Vayishlacḥ – Jacob and Job
Decades after Jacob’s betrayal and consequent fleeing, Jacob is on his way to meet his brother Esau again. And on his way, we encounter the strange narrative of Jacob wrestling with an angel.
This moment of Jacob’s journey always brings to my mind the character of Job. Job is a good man whom we see suffering greatly due to a mysterious game of cosmic chess between the Divine and Satan. After the initial storytelling, the following 35 chapters of the Book of Job describe an endless loop of Job arguing with his friends. Job gets stuck like an awful, despairing, heart-rending broken record. And in the last chapters, God finally turns
up in a whirlwind to proclaim that Job has to move on without the answers.
Job isn’t going to solve the Problem of Suffering. Job is shaken out of his feedback loop of anguish and, without the answers that he was so desperately seeking, moves on with his life.
Where Job was drowning in despair, Jacob is engulfed by fear. He’s about to face his brother, whom he betrayed all those years ago, and he doesn’t know what revenge his brother might have in store. He finds himself alone, behind the messengers, gifts, family, and possessions he has sent ahead of him. And for a night, he gets stuck there. He struggles with some anonymous divinity, even sustains an injury from the wrestling, but nonetheless stays in the feedback loop. And then the angel tells him that it’s daytime, and they cannot
stay here struggling forever. Jacob demands a blessing. The blessing dispels something; the spell is shattered; the cycle has broken. Jacob moves on.
In both cases, the Divine says to the human: you cannot stay here forever. It’s time to move forward, no matter how unsure you are of how to walk in this uncertain world. It is a strange call to faith. Neither man is offered an answer; Job gets no explanation for his suffering, and the angel does not assure Jacob that he will be safe from his brother. Instead, they are told that they must move forward without certainty
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman