Parashat Vayishlah Torah Reading: Genesis 32:4-36:43
In this week's parashah / Torah Reading, the patriarch Jacob is on his way home. After decades in the land of his mother's birth, having acquired two wives, two concubines and thirteen children, Jacob is coming home. Man of means though he may be, homecoming is a source of tremendous anxiety for Jacob: he left as a young man having stolen the blessings due to his older twin Esau and he is not sure of the reception he will receive from his long-estranged twin.
With all this on his mind, in the middle of nowhere, Jacob is accosted in his sleep by a "being", an angel . . . if you are so inclined, you can read the story as a dramatic working out of Jacob's inner struggle. Whether God's angels are representative of elements of our own personalities or whether they are beings external to us, Jacob encounters one and wrestles with one in the middle of the night. The human and the angelic encounter and struggle with each other.
The Chasidic Koretzer Rebbe said: Within us are all the worlds, and we can therefore be in contact with them all. With us are all the qualities, good and evil, but they are unborn, and we have the power to beget them. We can transform evil qualities into good, and good into evil. By studying Torah and performing commandments we give birth to the angelic within us.
Why is Judaism such a holistic tradition? Why do we need guidance from the Torah and from Jewish law (halachah) about our relationships with our parents? our business dealings? our diets? our dress? Does God think we're stupid and immoral?
God knows that there are moral and good atheists (God made them, too!).
God, Torah, our tradition, the sages who have built layer upon layer of our rabbinic tradition all know that it's not easy being the best we can be. The holistic, comprehensive scope of Jewish tradition is here for us not because we can't be trusted, but because we do struggle all the time. The major figures in the Torah are not perfect human beings because there is no such thing as a perfect human being. The Torah allows us to witness how their lives are enriched when they let God into their lives . . . .
The gift of this week's parashah? We are encouraged to keep up the struggle, to let the angelic impulse prevail, to embrace Judaism in all it's range instead of compartmentalizing it into something we do at 330 Park Avenue or with the family at a holiday or simchah. Don't forget: Jacob was embraced by Esau when they met. If we let God in, we win.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.