Friday, November 30, 2012

The Wholeness of Being Broken: My Brief Thoughts on Vayishlach

Avraham may have been the first Jew, but Yaakov is the first person to merit the name Yisrael.  This week offers one of of my very favorite Torah portions: Vayishlach.  It is the concluding parasha to the Yaakov and Esav narrative that began three weeks ago, when the twin brothers were conceived and born.  Primed in the womb for strife and conflict, emerging into the world  hand gripped tightly around his brother's heel, he is given the name Yaakov  (a direct link to the Hebrew word for heel: akev.)  Yaakov  - a soul defined by circumstance and experience, lives out much of his young life reacting to the reality that someone or something else has defined for him.  And after questionable birthright sales and maternally manipulated identity theft, Yaakov spends the next part of his life on the run, but not without an odd night vision of ladders and messengers and heights and depths.  Here, he walks away blessed, but nevertheless, bargaining, struggling, loving and learning, about living and choosing and doing on his own terms.  And only after this can he heal wounds ruptured two decades before, but not before an eerie night's encounter with another. When Yaakov, the one who entered the world hand gripped to foot now holds on so tightly, despite injury,  to his adversary/counterpart/self,  he earns a blessing, a new name: Yisrael.  No longer defined by his circumstance, transformed, this man becomes Yisrael - one who wrestles with the Divine.  Ultimately, Yaakov claims his own destiny on his own terms, without the manipulation of anyone else; it is when Yaakov becomes Yisrael that he truly becomes our forefather. With this new name and new purpose, one brother sees the other; with this new name and new purpose,  the brothers embrace and forgive; with this new name and new purpose, the man who was Yaakov becomes Yisrael, and only then is called shaleim - whole.
Wholeness comes with brokenness.  Holiness comes not in the victory, but in the wrestling, the struggling, the steps along the way.  

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