Tag Archives: Acceptance

Zot Chanukah: And this too, this is Chanukah!


Celebrating Inclusion on the Special Eighth Day of Chanukah

As the festival of Chanukah comes to a close it seems that we can’t help but heighten our joy. As we make one last crescendo of the holiday melodies. It’s almost like we are tossing in all the remaining oil on to the lingering flames of Chanukah, to go out of the holiday in full glory. So special is this day, it seems to make sense why we call this day “Zot Chanukah,” – Hebrew for “this is Chanukah” – because this (zot) is Chanukah at its grandest.

Public lighting for Chanukah in front of the White House.

Public lighting for Chanukah in front of the White House. Let us use this final day of the holiday to focus upon and display radical inclusiveness!

Though there are some very good reasons why we call this eighth day of the festival Zot Chanukah.

One suggestion is that it gets its name from the special Torah reading for this day of Chunukah (Numbers 7:54-8:4) which begins with the words: “Zot Chanukat Hamizbe’ach,” meaning “This was the dedication of the Altar.” To chanukat means to dedicate. This reading relates to the dedication of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle sanctuary.

Our tradition tells us that the work to complete the construction of the Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev, in the dead of winter as we are now. However, this sacred space and the Altar were not officially dedicated until the start of the cosmological and spiritual year, in Nissan – the month of the spring renewal, the agrarian new year starting with the month or Aires. We are also taught that the reason for waiting was in order honor the month in which the patriarch born and died, the month of Nissan. (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 11a)

Our tradition thus suggests to us that Chanukah was always there in the story, but we just need to look for it! We just needed to actualize it!

In the case of the dedication of the Tabernacle, in the Torah reading for this day, we have a most astounding thing described for us. Our special reading begins with the dedication offering by a prince from the Tribe of Menasheh. But notice, if we look at the text in the Torah, we will see though that this entire seventh chapter of Numbers is all about the princes of each tribe presenting their dedication offering for the Mishkan. Each tribe offers the exact same offering and it is even described exactly the same way, only changing the names of the princes who presented the offering.

How powerful is this story! That a work is not complete – that a community and sacred space is not whole and ready for service – until it includes all the tribes! These princes and tribes are all equal, and all deserve mentioning. And given as much text as is dedicated to this – some 89 verses in all – going to great lengths to accomplish this sense of inclusiveness is literally written into our Torah itself!

Let us consider this, as we meditate upon the special Chunukah Torah reading this day. And as we consider these starting words, “Zot Chanukat Hamizbe’ach.” (Numbers 7:54)

There is also another explanation for the name Zot Chanukah is brought down to us by means of the Beit Yosef – the words of Maran Yosef Karo – when he asks a most infamous question:

“Why do we celebrate eight days of Chanukah when the single flask of oil that was found was only sufficient for one day and burnt for eight – the miracle, in that case, was really only seven days because the flask of oil was sufficient for the first day?”

מדוע חוגגים שמונה ימים, שהרי הנס נמשך רק שבעה ימים, כי ליום הראשון בכל מקרה היה מספיק שמן?

The Beit Yosef presents an interesting quandary for us, as to why we celebrated this holiday for eight days. When the nature of the holiday seems to logically suggest that the miracle of the lights was only seven days long. After all, they had oil for the first day! There was no miracle there on that day. Our master asks us, so why do we celebrate eight days?

One of the thoughts in this line of thinking also suggests that the reason the holiday is actually eight days was because the Hasmoneans who rededicated the Temple in the days of the Chanukah story were not sure of the actual day of the Rosh Chodesh – the new moon, so they instead celebrated eight days to compensate for their doubt. That the sages weren’t sure, so they just included the eighth day anyhow!

The followers of this school of thought contend that to call the day Zot Chanukah actually is to gloriously embrace the day – and declare to people that despite any confusion or doubt – that it is right that we acknowledge that “Zot Chanukah… this too, this is Chanukah!” It needs to be included as much as any of the other days.

Chanukah Olive Oil LampsHowever, most of our rabbis and scholars would reject this latter explanation by the Beit Yosef. Instead they would point plainly to the name of this day to declare there is no doubt or confusion, they say we are sure about this day, because “Zot Chanukah… this too, this is Chanukah!”

Though the eighth day of Chunukah has already come – and the lights have already been lit the eve preceding this day – we still have a few more hours to extend this holiday joy. To show inclusiveness and to boldly broaden the reaches of our spirituality.

It is customary to light candles during the daytime as well! During the daytime we may light-up Chanukah lights in synagogues, in public spaces, and at gatherings held in honor of the festival. These lightings are done without recitation of the blessings as they do not constitute an observance of the mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights. But it is a great way to include and be included within the community.

Though Chanukah is the not a major holiday to the Jewish people, merely a minor festival, this holiday has taken a prominent role in our society during this season. As the secular new year comes and as popular culture celebrates their celebration of Christmas, Jews have also been called to the forefront and to deliver a spirit of joy during this dark and dreary season.

For this reason the Lubavitcher Rebbe most infamously made the lighting of large public menorahs for the public a holiday staple in America and worldwide. In every major city people can find a giant menorah erected by Chabad. This has become a custom that almost all movements and communities have also come to embrace.

So as this eighth day of Chanukah is upon us, I call us all to embrace this day with full joy. If we got some extra oil or candles, grab them and set them ablaze just one more time during the daylight. Light the eight lamps to declare, “Zot Chanukah… this too, this is Chanukah!”

I also challenge us to use these last hours of the day to reach out to others, those who do not have this sense of joy. Who do not feel they have a place in this season, nor anyone there for them. I challenge us to embrace them and assuredly find a way to include them in our joy. And to take the time to show them these lights and say to them, “Zot Chanukah… this, this is Chanukah!”

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Parshat Vayikra (5774)


Leviticus 1 – 5

Purim In Light of Vayikra: A Message of Acceptance and Peace

As we come in to the Book of Viykra, as this word suggests, we begin with the book of Leviticus with G-d calling out. “Vayikra el-Moshe / And He called out to Moses.” (v.1) Now the English name of this new book of the Torah – Leviticus – it would suggest that we are going to hear of Moses receiving yet another revelation of laws, this time for the Levities.

Mishloach Manot (from Wikipedia): "The mitzvah of giving mishloach manot derives from the Book of Esther. It is meant to ensure that everyone has enough food for the Purim feast held later in the day, and to increase love and friendship among Jews as a counter to Haman's assertion that the Jewish people are characterised by strife and disunity."

Mishloach Manot (from Wikipedia): “The mitzvah of giving mishloach manot derives from the Book of Esther. It is meant to ensure that everyone has enough food for the Purim feast held later in the day, and to increase love and friendship among Jews as a counter to Haman’s assertion that the Jewish people are characterised by strife and disunity.”

This simplistic understanding might seem appropriate, given how many of the laws herein are about sacrifice and ritual law; matters under the jurisdiction of the Levitic priests. However, this is not the essence of this book for Jews of the rabbinic tradition. It’s time we get beyond this childish oversimplification and look for the living Torah in this, not just whine that we can’t comprehend the sacrificial cult.

Besides, the Torah itself, at the head of this book demands that we look at it as more than just a book of priestly rituals and dead animals. Indeed the book of Vayikra has Hashem directing the voice of Moses to relate something to all the common people, how they could also call upon G-d. How they could draw close to him.

This is why from the start our text we read, “Daber el-bnei Yisrael, ve’amrata aleihem, adam ki-yakariv michem karban l’Hashem… / Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When any man among you brings an offering for Hashem…” (v.2) These are instructions for all the everyday people of Israel, for all who want to karav – to draw close to Hashem.

This is why primitive people would offer sacrifices, in order to make a connection with G-d. To draw close to the Divine. Naturally, as animal sacrifice is the most dramatic form of offering, this must be addressed first. The severity of it demands that we touch on this point first, as we are looking into an age where sacrifice is the most common form of worship. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us.

But along with this point there is also reveals another truth, one which we need to grasp in order to understand what the people are trying to accomplish here. This is our key verse for this week:

“If his offering is a burn-sacrifice

from his flock,

a male without blemish

you shall bring to the entrance

of the Tent of Meeting,

bring it near

that he may be accepted before Hashem.”

| Im-olah korbano

| min-habakar

| zachar tamim

| yakrivenu el-petach

| Ohel Mo’ed

| yakriv oto

| lirtzono lifnei Hashem

Leviticus 1:3

Today we aren’t going to talk about sacrifices. We could talk at length about the word “im / if.” The factor of “if” that comes into play for bringing an offering. We could also take a look at the different type of sacrifices, and what the significance of each is. But I’ve actually done a lot of talk on that over the past couple years. I want us to focus on some other points, so I encourage you to look into the meaning of that for yourselves. There are some deep truths which are easily revealed if we just look with intent.

However, there is something that does need to be addressed before we move on. Even though we have also touched on this topic elsewhere as well. It is most important we address it again now, because we encounter it here at the start of Leviticus and will see it continuously repeated from here on.

Here in verse three we begin to see the use of the phrase, “lirotzono.” We need to understand that the people were sacrificing as part of their ritual to gain the acceptance of Hashem, and to signify finding favor in G-d’s eyes. Furthermore this act of public sacrifice also would reinforce for the community of Israelites that a person was now blameless and acceptable to stand in the congregation of Israel; a soul and citizen in good standing.

We also noted at that time that this verse also suggests to us that an offering must be given of free will. That is the other common way that we can understand the phrase, “lirotzono” to mean. That we offer something in keeping with ones own ratzon – ones own free will and desire. That one gives what they wish, as they see fit. That we should all freely give as we so desire. (see Parshat Kedoshim 2011)

So here we can likewise understand this verse to mean, “He shall bring it willingly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, before Hashem.”

This use of the word ratzon (from which lirozono is conjugated) here is interesting for the Hebrew speaker. So I want us to take another look. Because most often when we hear words such as these used it is in reference to what people desire. If we consider the way people today use the related word rotzeh (or rotzah), more often than not people are talking about what they want as well. More often than not they are describing or ordering what they want. Asking for something they desire. Right?

Instead here in our parsha we have this come up in a discussion about giving, not about receiving something. That is a topic in and of itself, how our will should be for giving and not just focused on what we receive.

It is especially important for us to focus on our desire to give, and not just our will to receive during this Purim season. To think in terms of charity and communal giving, as many of us go out of way to give money to the poor and shalach manot baskets to one another.

Now to bring it back to the actual phrase itself, “lizrtzono.” We are talking about one’s ratzon, one’s own will and desire. But more broadly, to do something according to one’s ratzon means for a person to merely do what pleases them. Or more formally, to do what is appropriate in one’s own eyes.

The latter of these descriptions we understand well. As in our prayers, we recite the words, “Yehi ratzon milfanech Hashem Eloheinu / May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d…” Or we can even stylistically translate this as, “May it be acceptable before you, Hashem our G-d.” We recite this near the end of the Amidah prayers, asking that our prayers be found to be appropriate and pleasing before the eyes of our G-d, and the G-d of our forefathers. That what we asking for and desire also be in line with His ratzon.

And this is the most common use of this phrase, one that most religious people understand. And this is even more true in light of the Torah. Most often the word ratzon is attached to the will of G-d, and less often used when speaking of the will of men. We see it used several times when talking about the early rulers of Israel. But aside from that its is rarely used for men

Interestingly, two of these rare occurrences appear in Megillat Esther. We also have one similar reference in the story of Esther as well. So we are going to take a look at those instances in order to see what we can learn from them.

There are certain things we need to keep in mind when considering the ratzon of men. Whereas most people can accept the will of G-d being good and pleasing, we can’t just assume such a claim when it comes to will of humans. We are not always so honorable and lofty. Us mortals have a ratzon which can be directed for good or ill, and quite often if encouraged it will migrate towards the ill.

We see this presented in the first of the examples at the start of Megillat Esther. We read:

“And they gave them drink in vessels of gold – the vessels being diverse one from another – and royal wine in abundance, according to the bounty of the king.

“And the drinking was according to the law, and yet there was no duress; for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure.”

וְהַשְׁקוֹת בִּכְלֵי זָהָב, וְכֵלִים מִכֵּלִים שׁוֹנִים; וְיֵין מַלְכוּת רָב, כְּיַד הַמֶּלֶךְ:

וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת, אֵין אֹנֵס: כִּיכֵן יִסַּד הַמֶּלֶךְ, עַל כָּלרַב בֵּיתוֹלַעֲשׂוֹת, כִּרְצוֹן אִישׁוָאִישׁ:

Esther 1:7-8

The first of our examples is in the middle of the initial description of the feast ordered by King Achashverosh. We are not yet talking about the actual feast of Purim yet, we are talking about the initial feast which the King of Persia orders, (v.3) and of the matching feast arranged by Queen Vashti for the women (v.9). This is the feast of debauchery which starts off this whole story of Megillat Esther, it is not the nonintoxicating celebration of salvation yet. No, here this is the initial binge and orgy. The party which ended with a belligerent, and then headless Vashti. Thus staring the narrative of Purim, and the rise of Queen Esther and Mordechai.

In this first example we are presented with how King Achashverosh orders a feast and commands the people to celebrate. Now aside from ordering the celebration, the King made sure that every person was able to celebrate. He provided the party and the wine, and ordered his servants that they should do according to the will of each person (kiratzon ish-v’ish). That everyone’s personal pleasures were met. Thus no one was celebrating by force, each person freely reveled in their ratzon – in their own desires and pleasures.

This is a negative display of ratzon. (Intersting isn’t it, giving in light of how many of us today treat Purim, right? But I digress.)

And then later on in Megillat Esther we have another, display of ratzon. One that is also troubling, especially if we don’t put it into context. Our second reference is found in this verse near the end of the story:

“And the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword and with slaying and destruction, and they did to their enemies as they wished.”

וַיַּכּוּ הַיְּהוּדִים בְּכָלאֹיְבֵיהֶם, מַכַּתחֶרֶב וְהֶרֶג וְאַבְדָן; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם, כִּרְצוֹנָם:

Esther 9:5

This is supposed to be the good example. The example of righteous indignation, the fury of self-defense. The king and his princes cannot stop the orders of slaughter already issues against the Jews, so they aid the Jews to defend themselves. And in the clashes to come they destroy and slay their enemies. They are empowered with arms and allowed to fight back. Doing unto their enemies “ki-ratzon,” affording to their own desires. Carrying out what ever retribution they saw fit, they were allowed to do as they willed. As we see, these enemies armed by the evil decree Haman lobbied for were themselves destroyed. We are told the Jews slaughtered 500 men in Shushan, as well as the remaining 10 sons of evil Haman. This victory was repeated over and over in the other provinces as well.

Like I said, this latter example is supposed to be the better of the two. At least one of these displays of will is morally correct, that of the Jews to defend themselves in face of a decree calling for their inhalation. However, righteous or justified it might be, it is not necessarily the ideal. Not to most of us modern readers, we would first hope for a more peaceful resolution.

We would hope that their ratzon – that the will of the people would be more prone to show mercy, unlike Haman and the enemies of the Jews. Certainly in self-defense there is a time for fighting, a place for taking a life, and a need to do damage to the enemies who threaten the welfare our people.

Still we would hope that “ki-ratzonam / as they saw fit,” would have been something more merciful than a response of total annihilation in return. And I believe we do in-fact see an undeniable display of that here, which itself is clearly evident. Evident by how relatively low the number of casualties are for some supposedly huge battles and clashes of a grand scale.

I’m not at all just being overly progressive, and acting like a hippie by asserting this, I assure you. For those of you that also feel this way, your justification comes in looking at the moral example of the hero of this story. The example of Mordechi the Jew.

Yes it is true that in Esther chapter 9 we see that the princes of the land helped aid the Jews out of their fear for Mordechai, who was now well esteemed in the eyes of King Achashverosh. The sheer influence of Mordechai made the princes, governors and officials help the Jews. They aided the Jews in their armed response out of sheer respect (and fear) of Mordechai. And in the days to come Mordechai increased in greatness as his fame for the salvation of the Jews increased throughout the land.

In the final lines of Megillat Esther we will learn something about Mordechi and his awesome legacy. We are going to see what became of this Mordechi and what he choose to do with the greatness he acquired. And about what values he thought were important to hand down to his descendants.

Remember how we talked at the beginning that ratzon can also be understood as acceptance? We see a  form of this word appear similarly so in this final verse of Esther:

“For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Achashverosh, and great among the Jews, and accepted (Heb. ratzuy) by the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed.”

כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי, מִשְׁנֶה לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, וְגָדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיודֹּרֵשׁ טוֹב לְעַמּוֹ, וְדֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם לְכָלזַרְעוֹ:

Esther 10:3

As Mordechai’s popularity increased, not just with the Persians but also with his own Jewish brothers, he used his influence for something other than might. At the end of the story we do not have a depiction of a man of influence with an iron first. He is respected as such. But his legacy, in what he chose to focus his life’s work and message upon, was summed up in these last words. Mordechai didn’t seek recognition or power. What he sought was, “tov l’amo / good for his people.” When he selected his words of wisdom to follow he choose to, “daber shalom l’chol zaro / speak peace to all his seed.”

As we go on to celebrate our Purim celebrations of the miracle and salvations done for us at this time, and at this season, I want us to remember to focus on something other than just victory and might. I want us to remember the real message of this story is that we should do everything we can to use our influence to seek the good of the Jewish people. And instead of merely revelling in our victory, we need to continue to use our influence to instill the peace seeking mentality.

This Purim I want us to get beyond using this holidays as our annual chance to act out our ratzon – our pleasures and desires. Purim is much more than a time to just let it all hang out. We should intend that our ratzon be more in line with what is described here in this week’s Torah portion, that our ratzon – our will, our desire – should be to give. We should strive to be people who struggle with all our will to advance the good of the Jewish people. People who use their influence for the welfare of others. People who use their influence for the acceptance of others, unlike Haman. People who are like blessed Moredechia, with the will and desire to advance peace throughout the generations.

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Parshat Vayishlach (2011)


Genesis 32:4-36:43

Sometimes All People Want Is Acceptance

“Jacob sent messengers

ahead of him to his brother Esau

to the field of Edom in the area of Se’ir”

| Vayishlach Ya’akov mal’achim

| lefanav el-Eisav

| ach artzah Se’ir sdeh Edom

Genesis 32:4

Jacob bows before Esau

“After all this seeing your face is like seeing the face of an angel, and you accepted me.” – Genesis 33:10

As we begin this weeks Parsha it is important that we understand the context of the situation at hand. Jacob Our Father had fled the land of Haran in the east; from his father-in-law Laban. He wished to return to his home in Hevron, which is south of Jerusalem – the resting place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in the Tomb of Machpelah. Not only had Jacob’s attempt at a fly-by-night escape failed, his attempt to outrun Laban’s pursuit had failed as well. Though his encounter with Laban had ended peaceably he must have been undoubtedly troubled by the reality that he could also find himself unable to outrun a head-on pursuit of his brother Esau.

Though Jacob and Esau had been separated for 22 years Jacob did not have any reason to believe that his brother Esau’s anger over losing his birthright and blessing had subsided. Furthermore, Jacob’s return could further provoke hostility as his wish to settle in Hevron was in effect the return of a disputed inheritor moving into the family home in dispute. He had taken Esau’s birthright all those years before, but his journey back to Hevron was now the act of Jacob claiming his right as heir of Abraham and Isaac.

Our tradition tells us that there was no one who believed that an encounter with Esau would end favorably. It is for this reason Rashi points out that the wording “vayishlach Ya’akov malachim / Jacob sent messengers” literally means “Jacob sent angels.” You see in Hebrew the word malach does mean messenger, however it also means “angel.” A malach is an agent, or emissary; a representative. Though it can plainly mean a messenger on behalf of one human to another, the Torah also often refers to malachei elohim, messengers of G-d, which are angels as it does two verses before in 32:2, “v’ya’akov halach l’dar’ko vayif’u-bo malachei elohim / And Jacob went on his way, and angels of G-d met him.” Rashi is therefore suggesting that no man was willing to approach Esau on behalf of Jacob fearing they would be killed on the spot so he instead sent the angels he encounter at Mechanaim to evaluate the situation and report back any information that would reveal Esau’s intentions.

If the prospect of approaching Esau was that parlous it begs the question, why would he intentionally be choosing to face off with Esau?

In order to grasp the ill logic of Jacobs choice to return to the Land of Israel by means of Se’ir, where Esau had been lingering and would eventually settle (36:9), we merely have to consider what his options were. Jacob could have quickly completed his journey home to Hevron by crossing over the Jordan river and then turning south at Shechem. However the option he insisted upon meant continuing on the other side of the Jordan, going south past the Dead Sea, then into the plains of Se’ir which are east of Aravah and then head north up to Hevron. The distance from Mechanaim to Edom alone is about 90 miles.

But why? The only logistical reason Jacob had for taking this route was to avoid the difficulty of fording the river, with his children and livestock.

In the end Jacob did not continue on to Se’ir as he was afraid of facing Esau. And we are told by the messengers that Esau was approaching with 400 men, he didn’t believe it was a welcoming party but a war party. So Jacob instead backtracked north to cross over the Jordan anyhow.

The Chazal states that words of Proverbs apply to Jacob here, saying “He who passes by and meddles in a strife not his own takes a dog by the ears.” (Proverbs 26:17) Rashi furthermore explains that this means that one who passes by and engages in a quarrel he has no business regarding is like one who grabs a dog by the ears and causes it to bite him for no reason. He was putting himself in harms way needlessly.

How many times in this life I have seen people out of laziness strangely choose unwise and overly complicated options, when the odds are stacked up against them; only to have to have to backtrack and do what was required of them all along.

What we see over and over again is a perplexing situation of Jacob seeming like he’s going to approach his brother and then he turns around and appears to change his mind again and flinch away.

The Torah also highlights a psychological aspect of Jacob’s unwise choice with the words “vayirah Ya’akov me’od vayezer / Jacob became very afraid, and it distressed him.” As Midrash Rabbah comments:

“Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai said:

Are not fear and distressed identical?

The meaning however is that ‘he was afraid’

that he might be killed.

‘He was distressed’

that he might kill.

For [Jacob] said [to himself]:

If he prevails against me,

will he not kill me?

While if I prevail over him,

will I not kill him?

(That is the double meaning of)

‘he was afraid’ – lest he should be killed;

and ‘distressed’- lest he should kill.”

אמר ריהודה ברבי עילאי: |

לא היא יראה לא היא צרה, |

אלא ויירא‘ – |

שלא יהרוג, |

ויצר לו‘ – |

שלא יהרג. |

אמר: |

אם הוא מתגבר עלי, |

הורגני |

ואם אני מתגבר עליו, |

אני הורגו הדא הוא |

(זהו פירוש הביטוי הכפול) |

וייראשלא יהרוג, |

ויצר לושלא יהרג. |

Bereshit Rabbah 76:2

In this case Jacob was of such great compassion that he was unwilling to engage in a blood feud. In breaking his people up into smaller camps they could travel faster towards the Jordan, in sending messengers with tribute to Esau that were staggered with distance between them he hoped to slow down Esau’s approach, both to appease him and to give him time for his anger to subside. So he sends much of his belongings south around the east side of the Jordan and to go around the southern end of the Dead Sea while sending his family north over the river to go around the north side of it. However, Jacob stays behind by himself on the south side of the Yabok river, which runs east and west and flows into the Jordan.

Jacob’s Struggle

And there we most often think of the struggle beginning. But the struggle already began much earlier when Jacob had to make the decision about returning to Hevron, not that he had a choice there was no where else for him to go. But we always think of the wresting with the angel. As is well known in the Midrash we are told that this was actually the angelic protector of Esau assigned to him by G-d wrestling with Jacob (v.25).

So the wresting begins, and one sentence later we are told that the angel saw that he could not win against against Jacob so he went for an underhanded move and dislocated his leg by use of us his hands, he cheated. But still, even in pain Jacob struggled with the angel. Not that he really needed to, the match was already lost because of the lack of sportsmanship yet Jacob still insisted that he was going to continue on to prevail despite that until the angel relented the blessing was his. And they wrestle until daybreak.

At that point the angel ask Jacob his name, for which occasion he uses to retort:

“Don’t say Jacob,

say from now on that your name is Israel

as you have struggled with G-d

and also with men and have won.”

| Vayomer lo ya’akov

| yei’amar od smichech ki im Yisrael

| sharita im elohim

| viyim anashim vatuchal

Bereshit Rabbah 76:2

This struggle is no more than a few sentences, most of it being dialogue between the angel and Jacob. We are left to identify the person based on what they say about themselves in the blessing, that he represents both G-d and man, in this case Esau. But this struggle of Jacob’s has been going inside of him so long and so personally that he apparently thinks this angel is just speaking generally about his life, so he goes on to ask the angel what his name is. The angel turns back and pretty much tells Jacob he doesn’t need to know his name because it’s irrelevant but he needs to know who he himself was and thus extended the blessing upon Jacob . (v.30)

In this match between the angel and Jacob we see here that he is not backing down, nor is he afraid of pain, trial or suffering. He wrestles with an angel of G-d and wins, we are not talking about a wimp of man despite his gentleness of heart. Jacob is a man of great physical strength and character, and he once again prevails.

When I look over this wrestling match though I also see this situation seasoned with something deeper in the heart of Jacob. He could have just tried to have made a dead run to Hevron and hold himself up there if he wanted to until confronted, but it appears to me that he missed his brother. He loved him and truly the fear and apprehension was also one of being rejected. So as I look over the situation of Jacob wrestling with the angel of Esau he was reliving the old struggle and rivalry, as though he had missed it all.

Jacob up until now has had to prove his way as a righteous man before men and before G-d. His struggle was long and hard. It was lonely at times. But he payed his dues. Being away from home in Haran in the east he did all the reflecting and self-development necessary on both a physical and spiritual level. But he knew that this didn’t necessarily mean that his brother would see that and agree, let alone respect it (they aren’t even of the same religion, Esau and his wives were idolaters – see Gen. 26:34).

So Jacob leaves that place, limping as he goes at the break of dawn (32:33) when he notices that Esau and his men are coming (33:1). He joins his family and arranges them to meet Esau, instead of being at the head of the procession he arranges them by order of importance and endearment with Rachel, Joseph and himself at the furthest back of the meeting party (v.2). This requires Jacob to come forward to meet his brother, as he does he bows on the ground, doing this seven times as he approached (v.3).

So here we see Jacob limping from the wound in leg and continuously bowing as he comes. Midrash Rabbah 78:8 tells us that each time Jacob bowed to ground Esau was moved with compassion because he was doing it over and over. It’s as though seeing the timidity, the apprehension, the testing of the waters on the part of Jacob that it broke Esau’s heart. He was moved to have compassion on him.

“And Esau ran to him and embraced him,

and fell on his neck

and kissed him

and they wept.”

| Vayaratz Eisav likrato

| vayechabekehu vayipol

| al-tzavarav vayishakehu

| vayivku

Genesis 33:4

Then Jacob presents his family and his belongings (v.5-7). Esau seems to be confused as to what the meaning of so many camps was, so Jacob explained his reasoning, to appease Esau. (v.8) But Esau seems to cheerfully say that he has more than enough wealth, he doesn’t need anything so he could keep all his belongings (v.9).

You see the old rivalry is over, they have both moved on and have their own lives to manage and there is no reason to be angry or envious of one another. But Jacob insists, so he gives Esau a present that he is holding in his hand as a token of his love. (v.10)

Jacob goes on to say to his brother Esau in total endearment

“After all [this] seeing your face

is like seeing the face of an angel,

and you accepted me.”

| Ki al-ken ra’iti faneicha

| kir’ot penei elohim,

| vatirtzen

Genesis 33:10

And this is the hope that I would for all people and all families. That there would not only come reconciliation, but true acceptance.

Esau thus offered to accompany them through the land on their way (v.12), but Jacob decides after all that going the round about way would be too hard on small children and his flock and they would not survive being driven so hard so he would go over the Jordan and take it slow as he went and at a later time he vowed to come see Esau in Seir where he had settled. (v. 13-14)

So in the end the real reason that Jacob chose to go that way was fulfilled, to reconcile with his brother so there was no need to continue on that side of the Jordan. Nor was there a fight about Jacob returning home to become patriarch of the family as Esau had become a man of his own making somewhere else. Jacob would never make that visit to Esau, apparently things would never be exactly the same again. I guess it never is in life, you can never recapture the past. But you can deal with it in order to improve the present and to make a better future.


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