Shavua tov, everyone,
This week we read Vayishlach, “and he sent.” In this reading, we embark on yet another journey. Jacob sent angels, messengers ahead of his family party to meet his brother Esau. Jacob is returning from Haran with his large family, his livestock, and he wants to assure Esau he comes in peace. With this return, he is hoping to effect a teshuvah with his estranged brother. There is a demanding physical journey with all of the packing up and moving this large entourage towards their destination. But there is another level to this journey, another mysterious encounter that will change our journeys as a people.
Within a few words of each weekly parashah, or weekly Torah reading, we come across the word by which we identify it – last week was Vayetze, “and he departed”, or “and he left” (he, being Jacob leaving his family home to go to the land of his mother, Haran). Or, more concisely, as we see with this naming, first he went, then he sent!!
Namings are important – last week we encountered HaMakom – the Place – one of the names we have for God. We also read about many subsequent namings of both place and person. Sometimes ancient place names were re-named. Always there is the potential to find in these namings a deep well of potential understanding, one of the reasons we choose the names for our own children so very carefully.
In Vayishlach, we hear the word shaliach, messenger. Before Jacob encountered his brother, he wanted to prepare Esau – and himself – for a reunion some twenty years on. And Esau was also preparing for this meeting, with 400 armed men, hardly an auspicious welcome! When Jacob sent those messengers forth to precede him, he was perhaps testing his own fortitude and not just the strength of his brother.
Early in Vayishlach, Jacob, again in the dark, has another mysterious encounter – with an angel, a messenger, himself, perhaps? He wrestles with this shadowy self throughout the night and in doing so hurts his leg, and receives another name. He is now both Jacob and Israel, the one who wrestles with God. These names reflect both past and future for Jacob and for us. His name Israel becomes an all-embracing nomenclature for his person, a people and for a Land.
Jacob leaves this strange and haunting encounter transformed, both physically and spiritually. This visceral encounter recalls his encounter with God at the very beginning of his journey – “God was here, and I did not know it.” Jacob struggles with this knowing – as many of us do and have. We too are Israel – in our listening (Sh’ma) and in our actions. Jacob/Israel is both a duality and a unity. Our challenge is to find the echad, our oneness, our unity, within.
Kol tuv, dear friends.