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
Jacob became very frightened and was distressed, so he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and the cattle and the camels into two camps. And he said, “If Esau comes to one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp will escape (Bereishis 32:8-9).”
Yaakov prepares for the overwhelming reunion. Will Esav want war or peace? Has Esav forgiven his brother or does he still harbor animosity? These are the questions swirling around Yaakov’s head. Rashi explains that Yaakov prepared for this encounter in various ways. He prayed to God for help, split the camp in anticipation for war and sent gifts to appease Esav. Although Rashi mentions prayer first, Yaakov in fact prepares for war first and only afterwards prays. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (1881-1966) in his work titled Oznayim LaTorah asks a simple question, “Why didn’t Yaakov pray first? Isn’t prayer the most instinctive, reflexive response to danger and difficulty? Why does he first split the camp and then only later turn to spiritual options?”
Rav Sorotzkin answers that Teffilah, prayer, requires a certain level of “yishuv ha’daas,” inner quietude and concentration. When Yaakov hears that Esav is coming to meet him with 400 men, he is consumed with worry and fright for his children and wives. He knows he can’t best Esav on the battlefield and realizes that at this point flight is no longer an option. Teffilah, true dialogical connection with Hashem requires concentration and some measure of inner peace. Yaakov doesn’t have it and so he doesn’t pray. It is only after he takes other steps and feels a bit more “prepared” for this encounter that he could reach out and converse with Hashem.
Perhaps, the Torah is teaching us an additional lesson as well. When we encounter a challenge, perhaps the step before (or at least concurrent with) prayer is action. When we encounter difficult or tumultuous circumstances we must ask ourselves, what I can do to help myself? How can I own this situation to make it better? All too often, we rely on others to solve our problems and fix that which is broken. If you want something done in life, roll up your sleeves and get it done yourself. To an extent, we must take this approach with Hashem. The Ribbono Shel Olam is always here to help us. But what He wants more than anything is for us to own our circumstances and engage in dynamic activity to help ourselves and better our world. He doesn’t only want us to pray; He wants us to act. Hashem gives us the incredible opportunity to partner with Him to advance ourselves and our world. The reality is, we can’t accomplish anything without God’s assistance and providence. But we must take the first step. We can’t ask Hashem to act if we are unwilling to act.
Perhaps, this was the dynamic unfolding with Yaakov Avinu. Yaakov realized he needed to prepare in these three ways. He understood that teffilah was an absolute necessity. Yet, Yaakov understood that there is decisive action he could take to help himself, take ownership over his circumstances and act. And so, he splits the camps in preparation for war, sends a beautiful gift to Esav and then says, “Hashem, I have done everything I can, I need your help. Where my reach ends, is where Yours begins. Hatzileyni Na, save me and my family from these difficult circumstances.”
We all encounter challenges in one way or another. It is tempting to place the responsibility to solve the crises of life on the shoulders of others. It is even tempting to place the full responsibility on God. Yaakov Avinu teaches us that Hashem is always with us and always ready to help. But it is our sacred duty to try to help ourselves, to take ownership over our lives and circumstances. It is our responsibly to split the camp, make decisions and try to become the masters of our destiny.