After the dramatic encounter with Esav, Yaakov continued his journey back home. The journey took longer than expected due to the large family and flock, and Yaakov made camp in a few different locations.
And Jacob traveled to Succoth and built himself a house, and for his cattle he made booths; therefore, he named the place Succoth. And Jacob came “shalem” (safely) to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram, and he encamped before the city (Genesis 33:17-18)
The Torah relates that Yaakov arrived “shalem” to the city of Shechem. The Hebrew word “shalem” is translated by many of the commentaries as “safely”, but the basic, more common definition of “shalem” is “complete” or “whole.” What does the Torah mean that Yaakov arrived in the city of Shechem complete/whole?
Heb. שָׁלֵם, lit., whole, unimpaired in his body, for he was cured of his limp and whole with his money. He did not lose anything because of that entire gift that he had given Esau. [He was also] whole with his Torah, for he had not forgotten [any of] his studies in Laban’s house. [Gen. Rabbah 79:5, Shab. 33b]
Yaakov was finally whole. Physically whole, financially whole, and spiritually whole. He was able to heal from the challenges and difficulties of his past.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt’l points out something fascinating. Yaakov reached the city of Shechem almost 2 years after the ordeal with Esav. Following the encounter with his brother, Yaakov settled in the city of Succos and resided there for eighteen months. Why does the Torah only relate that Yaakov was whole and healed when he arrived in Shechem?
The answer is simple, yet profound – it takes time to heal. Your physical injuries take time to heal, and your emotional scars can cause pain for prolonged amounts of time. Healing can be a long and arduous process. Yaakov was deceived and mistreated by Lavan. He spent over two decades in an environment which was hostile to his views. The soul can heal – but it takes time.
Yaakov fought with an angel and was injured. The body can heal; this is a gift from God – but it takes time.
Yaakov encountered his estranged brother. This meeting must have brought back beautiful childhood memories but also brought back memories of deception, hurt, and pain. The brothers embraced, an embrace that was filled with love, anger, and sadness. The broken heart can be mended – but it takes time.
Yaakov entered into the city of Shechem, whole and healed – but it had taken close to two years for the wounds to heal.
We all suffer life injuries. Of course, there are physical injuries. And like Yaakov Avinu, there can be times when my soul will be wounded. I make poor decisions and wrong turns. There are times when my heart is wounded and broken. At times, it is as a result of wrongs committed against me and hurt visited upon me. But sometimes, my heart breaks as a result of things I do to others. I have hurt my loved ones. I have said things that should have never been said. I have done things that should have never been done. I have visited pain upon those who I should have protected and nurtured. I have broken my heart. But just as the body heals, the soul and heart can heal as well. Just as my physical injuries will need time to heal, the soul and heart require time to become once again whole. Too often, we want to feel better now, put the pain behind us now – but it takes time. The little boy who breaks his leg just wants to run outside and play with his friends, but he must first give himself the time to heal. When we hurt people we love, we often think that all it takes is an apology to create an automatic reset. As if, as soon as I say, “I’m sorry”, all of the pain automatically dissipates. You can heal a wounded relationship – but it will take time. And then there are the moments we injure ourselves. So many mistakes, so many misdeeds, so many wrong turns, and then comes the moment when I want to turn things around. I want to change; I want to be and do better. I just want to become the person I always wanted to be, and I want to be him now. But it takes time to mend your broken heart. It takes time to fix your mistakes. It takes time to right the wrongs. It takes time to change. It takes time to fix the things which are broken.
Yaakov Avinu becomes whole, but it was a journey. We can fix the things which are broken in our lives and in ourselves. We just must have strength, courage, and most importantly, patience.
You can only run for so long. At some point the reality of our circumstances catch up with us. Yaakov knew the day would come when he would have to face his brother, Esav. Would Esav be seething with anger or had he moved on? Could Yaakov and Esav rehabilitate their relationship or would they simply go their own ways? We could only imagine that these questions were on Yaakov’s mind the night before this fateful encounter. The Torah describes that after Yaakov crossed his family over the Jordan River, he found himself all alone, “va’yivaser Yaakov l’vado”. It was at this moment that he was attacked by the ish (man), (Rashi identifies this “man” as the ministering angel of Esav). They wrestled with one another throughout the night. Yaakov was injured but managed to stand his ground and kept his adversary restrained until morning. When the sun rose, the ish requested that Yaakov release him, “And he (the angel) said, ’Let me go, for dawn is breaking,’ but he (Jacob) said, ’I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.’ So he said to him, ’What is your name?’ and he said, ’Jacob.’ And he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Yisrael, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevaile.d”’ (Genesis 32:27-29)
This exchange is perplexing on several levels. Firstly, why is the ish asking Yaakov his name? After all, the angel targeted Yaakov and they had been struggling with one another throughout the night. Secondly, it would appear that Yaakov’s name is changed twice, once in the above-mentioned verse and a second time when God appears and says: “’…your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Yisrael shall be your name.’ And He named him Yisrael.” (Genesis 35:10) Why was the second name change necessary?
The Torah (Genesis 2:20) states that Adam named each of the animals. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba Chukas 19:3) relates that after Adam finished this important task, God approached him and asked, “…and you, what is your name? He (man) responded, ‘Adam, because I was created from the earth (adama).’” Man named each of the animals based on the qualities and characteristics he perceived in them. When God asked man, “What is your name?” He was asking, “How do you perceive yourself?” And man answered, “I am from the earth.” This was not a statement of origin; it was a statement of identification. Adam identified with the earth. Adam failed to realize that the root of his name is also the same root as the Hebrew word adameh (I will resemble). Man has a choice – he can view himself as resembling the dirt or he can view himself as resembling his Maker and Creator. He can choose to identify with the earth, or he can choose to identify with the heavens. The choice is his.
A name captures the essence of an individual. When the angel asked Yaakov, “Mah sh’mecha (what is your name)?” he was asking Yaakov, “How do you view yourself? What do you see when you look in the mirror?” Yaakov responded, “I am Yaakov. I am the one who was trampled on (the root of the name Yaakov is eykev, heel), I am the one who is always running; I am the one who is unable to face others (he runs away from home and later from Lavan to avoid conflict).” The ish says, “Yaakov you are mistaken. Your name is no longer Yaakov, you don’t have to run, you don’t have to fear; your name is Yisrael, ki sarisa (you are a master), you have struggled but you are still standing. You have fought with both angel and man and have stood your ground. You lived in Lavan’s home, a spiritually hostile environment for over two decades and yet, you remained true to your Abrahamitic values. You wrestled an angel into submission. You don’t have to grab at anyone’s heel; you don’t have to flee in the face of adversity. You are Yisrael. Find the confidence to face your demons, find the confidence to confront your challenges, find the strength to see how much you have grown.”
The angel did not change Yaakov’s name. In fact, Rashi explains that the angelic ish was foreshadowing what would occur later when God changes Yaakov’s name to Yisrael. The ish gave Yaakov important advice. “The only way you will be successful in life is if you begin to view yourself in a different light. You have so much potential, you possess so much holiness, but your self-perception is preventing you from seeing it.”
Too often we fail to achieve, progress and grow because we have given up on ourselves, we feel unworthy. We are acutely aware of our faults and shortcomings and assume that we cannot achieve greatness. We assume we are adama and therefore, lower our expectations of ourselves. We must always remember that we are the Children of Israel; we are the people who strive for adameh. Let us find the strength to see the good, the beauty and the holiness that resides within.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
So, he lodged there on that night, and he took from what came into his hand a gift for his brother Esau: Two hundred she goats and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty nursing camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty she donkeys and ten he donkeys. And he gave into the hands of his servants each herd individually, and he said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and make a space between one herd and another herd.” (Bereishis 32:14-17)
Yaakov was preparing for the anticipated encounter with his estranged brother. He prayed to God for Divine assistance and protection, split the camps in preparation for war, and sent generous gifts to Esav. The gifts were meant to appease and assuage the anger and animosity of Esav. The Torah tells us the enormous number of animals gifted by Yaakov and in doing so records an interesting detail. Yaakov says to his servants, “V’revach tasimu beyn eder l’eder, make space between one herd and the next.” On a simple level, Yaakov was trying to make the gift look as grand and generous as possible. By spacing the herd, a long line of animals would make its way to Esav and hopefully find favor in his eyes.
The great Chassidic master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) provides an additional level of insight. The Rebbe explains that life is filled with challenges. There are interpersonal challenges and personal challenges. There are faith challenges and family challenges. There are financial challenges and spiritual challenges. We each encounter our daily struggles. Some we can navigate and overcome and some are ongoing and lack a foreseeable resolution. The only constant in the human condition is struggle. The difficulty is that with prolonged struggle a person loses sight of his or her berachos. The struggles of life can be so overwhelming that all we see are the difficulties and hurdles and we forget about the things which are good and beautiful. We lose sight of our blessings and the beauty of our existence. The “herds” represent the challenges of life. Often it feels like the challenges and struggles do not come one at a time but are heaped upon us. The herd of chdifficulties bust down the door of our otherwise tranquil lives and trod upon anything and everything. One herd after another, the challenges keep pouring in and we feel as if we are falling into the abyss of despair and hopelessness. It is in this moment we hear the advice of Yaakov, “V’revach tasimu beyn eder l’eder, make space between one herd and the next,” take a moment, step back from the current circumstances and look at the beautiful blessings you have been granted. Take a moment to recalibrate your life perspective. The sky isn’t falling, the world isn’t coming to an end. Things are difficult in the current moment but there is so much good in life. We have so many berachos, so many gifts and so many wonderful opportunities. Create a space in between the herds of challenge and adversity in which to reflect on the good in your life.
We must maintain a proper positive perspective even when the herds of struggle are stampeding. We cannot lose sight of the things in life which are beautiful and going well. Let us learn to create the space of positive introspection and reflection in between the herds of adversity.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur