Torah: Va’Yishlach

What does it mean to be “the children of Israel,” as in Congregation B’nai Israel? In this week’s Torah reading, an angel blesses Jacob with that new name. Jacob, Ya’akov, means circumventer. As his name conveys, he has acted with deception in obtaining the first-born blessing from his blind father instead of Esau, the first-born twin. Now on the night before reunion with his once furious brother, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious stranger. A popular rabbinic imagining is that this is Esau’s protecting angel. Others see this as Jacob confronting his conscience. As the sun is beginning to rise, Jacob’s hip is dislocated, but he seems to have the better of his attacker who asks for release. Jacob demands, “Bless me.” The opponent replies, “Your name shall no longer be Ya’akov, but Yisra’el. For you have become sar with beings divine and you have won” (Genesis 32:29). Commentators identify several possible meanings of sar as the root of Yisra’el: a struggler; direct ; a prince. All three possibilities combine to describe Israel, who confronted his challenges directly, emerging both victorious and empowered by noble responsibilities. We the children of Israel are called to live up to the ideals imbedded in our patriarch’s enduring name.

Aleppo Falls- Tragic images of families leaving Aleppo are a reminder that “Never Again” remains an unfilled longing. As Elie Wiesel taught, “… True, we are often too weak to stop injustices; but the least we can do is to protest against them. True, we are too poor to eliminate hunger; but in feeding one child, we protest against hunger. True, we are too timid and powerless to take on all the guards of all the political prisons in the world; but in offering our solidarity to one prisoner we denounce all the tormentors. True, we are powerless against death; but as long as we help one man, one woman, one child live one hour longer in safety and dignity, we affirm man’s [woman’s] right to live.”

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