Our Collective Growth and Resilience

December 1, 2023 / 18 Kislev 5784

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read in Genesis 32:25 of the famous encounter between Jacob and a mysterious being, often interpreted as an angel or even a manifestation of Gd. During their struggle, it is written, “When [the being] saw that [Jacob] could not be overpowered, [the being] touched Jacob’s hip so that his hip was strained as they wrestled together.”

This poignant moment has been interpreted by scholars as a symbol of Jacob’s struggle for independence and personal growth. The physical alteration of his hip reflects the lasting impact of his wrestling match, an indelible mark of the transformative journey toward self-discovery. Jacob’s experience illustrates the necessity of confronting personal challenges, facing the unknown, and ultimately emerging stronger from the struggle.

Our great sage and rabbinic scholar Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, commonly known as Rashi, provides insightful commentary on this verse. Rashi emphasizes that the touch to Jacob’s hip was not intended to harm him irreparably but rather to redirect his focus. The divine encounter serves as a catalyst for Jacob’s internal growth, fostering resilience and determination.

This lesson extends beyond the individual journey; it underscores the communal aspect of personal development. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, in his teachings, often highlighted the interconnectedness of individuals within a community. Reflecting on Jacob’s struggle, Rabbi Sacks asserted that while personal growth is crucial, it should not come at the expense of our communal bonds. Rabbi Sacks noted that Jacob’s name is later changed to Israel, signifying not just personal triumph but also a broader communal identity.

In our quest for independence and self-realization, we must recognize the importance of community. The strength gained from personal struggles should be channeled towards the betterment of the collective. Just as Jacob’s individual transformation contributed to the formation of the Jewish nation, our personal growth should enhance the vitality of the communities we inhabit.

As we continue expressing our gratitude for the return of 110 hostages released to date (78 Israeli and dual nationals through prisoner release, 3 Israeli-Russian dual nationals through a separate agreement with the Kremlin, 24 foreign nationals outside of the prisoner exchange, and 5 hostages before the temporary cease-fire began), we remain angry, sad, and frustrated that the other 137 lives stolen by the terrorists remain at large. Some personal, familial, and even communal healing will be able to take place now that these loved ones have returned home, but as a nation, and as a peoplehood, we all still suffer.

As Vayishlach teaches us, we will continue to feel the pain of this war, like Jacob felt the pain in his hip. But as Rashi explained, the pain is not to harm us, rather it is to redirect our focus and foster our resilience and determination. In line with Rabbi Sacks teachings of our individual relationships with the community, although this might be a time when we feel alone and isolated by an outrageous rise in antisemitism, the Jewish Federation of San Antonio and our Jewish Community Relations Council are both maintaining active lines of communication with our partners across all local law enforcement agencies, as well as our elected officials tasked with ensuring the Jewish community’s safety and security. This week alone, the Jewish Federation convened our local San Antonio Jewish organizations and synagogue presidents and executives for a briefing with our local FBI agents, including a special update to Federation staff by a team from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.

As we all struggle to embody the lessons from Vayishlach, may we, like Jacob, find strength in our individual journeys, always remaining mindful of the profound impact we can have when we stand together. Because we are…


Shabbat shalom.