December 9, 2022 / 15 Kislev 5783
In this week’s Torah reading, Vayishlach, we read of Jacob’s infamous night of wrestling with a divine presence. Our scholars span the spectrum of who they believe this opponent might have been. Some say it was Esau’s spirit, others claim it was an angel of Gd, and yet others suggest the story is an allegory of Jacob wrestling with his own conscience.
No matter who you choose to believe Jacob wrestled, this conflict is the first time in Jacob’s life that he faces his opponent “face to face” (Genesis 32:31). Up until this moment, Jacob was the character who used trickery and manipulation to win his battles. Whether it was Jacob’s trading of Esau’s birthright for a bowl of soup; disguising himself as Esau to receive Isaac’s firstborn blessing; or exploiting his breeding skills to build his livestock wealth from Laban, Jacob never faced his struggles head-on.
In fact, immediately preceding this story, Jacob devises a plan to separate his two wives and their respective children, splitting his wealth, and encamping them on two different sides of the nearby river. All this deception is just in case Esau kills him in revenge and goes after his family. This way, maybe one of the two wives and their heirs will survive to fulfill his family’s destiny.
Jacob was anything but authentic up to this point in the Torah. In fact, it was because he lived a life of deceit that others around him tried to deceive him too. Jacob had spent a lifetime surrounding himself with people who only reinforced his poor choices. It wasn’t until this wrestling match that Jacob realized, “You cannot change the people around you. But you can change the people that you choose to be around.” Consequently, immediately after the struggle, the Torah picks back up with Jacob and his whole family united about to face Esau and his four-hundred-person entourage.
The company we keep says a lot about who we are as a person, or as General Colin Powell once said in paraphrasing Proverbs 27:19, “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kinds of friends he chooses.
If we were to take an honest inventory of the people with whom we surround ourselves, what is the message we would be telling the world? Do we live amongst a balanced group sharing many diverse ideas? Do we claim to be diverse but in reality, we live in an echo chamber of like-minded individuals? How colorful is our world, and how fruitful are the conversations that surround us?
Maybe it is time for many of us to wrestle with our own angel face-to-face and gain insight into who we are today versus who we aspire to be tomorrow.
The world is aching for us to build bridges and repair relationships. We were never created to be isolated from one another. Let us begin this weekend by reaching out to someone with whom we have disagreed and rekindle the conversation with, “let us agree to disagree, but let that disagreement not destroy the bonds of our friendship.” Because we are…