A Torah Message for Managing Difficult Encounters
Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach
December 6, 2014 – 14 Kislev 5775
I hope you will join us at services this Shabbat as we celebrate the bat mitzvah of Jordan Phillips. Mazal Tov to Jordan and to her entire family!
While I look forward to a fully joyous Shabbat at Rodef Sholom Temple this weekend, there are times when, as individuals, or as a community, we are thrust into difficult situations and we find ourselves needing to go the extra mile for that sense of blessing…
Our Torah portion, Vayishlach, describes Jacob’s encounter with a man who ambushed him and attacked him. Later in the story, this same man is described as a divine being, or an angel. Jacob’s struggle with the angel is described in detail and the end of the story is that Jacob is blessed by the angel and has his name changed from Jacob to Israel.
How did Jacob manage to turn this difficult encounter into a blessing?
A close reading of the Torah shows us that, once Jacob was thrust into this situation, he did not run away. He stayed the course and engaged in the struggle, face to face with his “adversary” until both he and his adversary arrived at a sense of blessing. Not only did Jacob insist on staying engaged face to face in the struggle, he also persisted in asking very important questions of the angel.
For one thing, Jacob asked the angel: “What is your name?” Since, in Biblical literature, a name often reflects a person’s essence, we may read into Jacob’s question: “I will not let go of you until I have a deeper understanding of who you are and where you are coming from….[And, Jacob continues:] “I will not let go of you until I have your blessing!” Read into these words: “I will not let you go until you understand who I am and where I am coming from!”
Jacob’s struggle with the adversarial man/angel sometimes parallels our own modern day struggles. In telling this story, the Torah reminds us that a difficult encounter can ultimately lead to a blessing, especially if we are able to: stay the course; continue to engage with one another face to face; and ask questions that lead to deeper understanding of who we are and how we all came to be engaged in the difficult situation. Open, face to face communication, difficult as it may be, with an eye to the goal of reaching a sense of mutual understanding and respect, is the key to wresting a blessing out of a difficult encounter.
Reading the story of Jacob’s struggle with the angel reminds us that, while it may not be easy, it is worth our while to go the extra mile for that renewed sense of understanding, of respect, and, ultimately, of blessing!
Rabbi Gilah Dror
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