Behave Like Israel
This Dvar Torah on Parashat Vayishlach was written by Lily Serviansky, our CAJE board chair. Lily is a past President of Temple Beth Am and currently the Chair of the Steering Committee at Temple Beth Am, overseeing both construction and fundraising for the new Beth Am campus.
I find Parashat Vayishlach very applicable to some of the unresolved issues that we are going through today. We find Jacob going back home after 20 years. And for us, the year 2020 feels like 20 years in one!
Jacob finds himself restless about having to confront his brother Esau, with whom he has had such a difficult and tumultuous relationship. So Jacob ends up sending his family and servants ahead of him. He also sends many gifts trying to soften the moment in which he will confront his brother, whom he tricked out of the birthright.
Jacob spends the night alone wrestling with a man who could have been an angel or perhaps is a manifestation of his own conscience. During this encounter, he is transformed physically, emotionally and even his name is changed. Afterwards, he is called Israel, the one who wrestles with God.
When Jacob finally encounters Esau, they embrace. Esau was not apparently interested in gifts or wealth. The two brothers come to that moment as equals, both very successful in their own way. So they face each other and embrace... and then they go their separate ways.
All of us have been facing our own individual struggles during this time. Not only struggles related to the pandemic, but also due to the divisive and polarized political environment that we find ourselves in. We also have to wrestle with our own conscience, and as Jacob, confront and embrace those we have hurt, disagreed with or ignored during this time.
We must do this in our work as community leaders because the need is greater than ever, and the time is now. We have to understand that this period of “wrestling” has also changed us in significant ways, and it is up to us to rise to the moment and behave like “Israel.”
The Torah refers to our protagonist as Israel or Jacob at different times from that moment on. His transformation to becoming a real leader doesn’t happen overnight, but it starts then. Similarly, it is impossible to think that our struggles and damaged relationships will be fixed all at once; it will take a process of healing, but it needs to start someplace.
Hopefully, we will also find that the Esau on the other side will also be willing to embrace us.
Soon we will be able not to come home, but rather to be leave our homes and go back out into community settings. Now is the time to take those first important steps needed to move forward as one, for the wellbeing of ourselves, our community and for the important work we do in the world as “Israel.”