19/20 Nov: Vayishlach : Shabbat comes in 3:51 pm, ends 4:56 pm
Parashat Vayishlach – 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 the Satan. After that initial storytelling, the following 35 chapters of
the Book of Job describes 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 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 struggleswith 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.