Food For the Soul
Fight or flight
In the Parsha Vayishlach, Jacob wrestles with an angel (the guardian of his estranged brother Esau) just prior to Jacob’s impending encounter with Esau. Writes Rabbi Yossy Goldman: “Esau was coming with four hundred armed men, and Jacob was actually planning to flee from Esau. That was when the angel attacked him. According to Rashbam, the reason for the angel wrestling with Jacob was so that he would be forced to stand his ground and not escape via a back route. Destiny itself was compelling Jacob to confront the enemy and overcome him. Only then would he witness the fulfillment of G-d’s promise to protect him from harm.”
It seems that Jacob was coming dangerously close to developing a pattern of escapism, Rabbi Goldman adds. “He fled Beer-Sheba when Esau threatened to kill him. He fled from Laban in Haran in middle of the night when he worried that Laban wouldn’t allow him to return to his homeland. And now he was preparing to flee from Esau. At any moment now there would be yet another nocturnal escape. Apparently, G-d wanted Jacob to learn that a philosophy of escapism is not the Jewish way. So the angel dislocated his hip, preventing him from running away. Now Jacob had no choice but to fight. In the end, he defeated the angel and was blessed with the name “Israel,” signifying a superior stature, victory and nobility.
Every son and daughter of Jacob must learn this lesson. Every one of us must become a child of Israel. The quality of fearlessness and courage, of strength and sacrifice, these are the hallmarks of Israel. When we stop running away from our problems and face up to them with guts and fortitude, we enter that higher state of consciousness. We move up from the Jacob Jew, who is still struggling, to Israel mode, where we finally emerge triumphant. When we are prepared to take up the challenge and go for the fight rather than flight, we move from being wrestlers to becoming winners, from humble Jacob to dominant Israel.”
Professor Henri Baruk was a French psychiatrist and director at L’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne, University of Paris, and a member of the National Academy of Medicine in Paris. He once remarked that the Jewish Sabbath is truly beneficial, even on a practical level. He said, “The modern people are slaves of work, and of pleasure—people incapable of stopping for one single day to think. They believe themselves obligated, on the day of rest, to exhaust themselves with their automobiles and are the slaves of annual vacations, often returning from them ill. Such vacations may represent for many a goal of the whole year, but medically and psychologically, they are less beneficial than the weekly repose of the Sabbath.”
From an article by Rabbi Pinchas Taylor
Mind Over Matter
Leaving a legacy
Some people wait to die. Some live a life that ends with death. They determine their day by their food, golf, shopping and social climbing. The Talmud calls them dead: “Even in their lifetimes, they are called dead.” Is this what our grandchildren can know about their grandparents? Is this legacy? You cannot live towards legacy, any more than you can live towards happiness. They will evade you. You can live with a today that is giving, building: ensuring something precious is made in this world. A girl with leukemia is cured. A boy with Hodgkin’s is comforted. You babysit for his mother so she can go out for a few hours. You learn some Torah. You teach some Torah. You help others learn and live and celebrate and have something to give to their children. You sweep the floor of the synagogue, you straighten up the chairs, you order more books, you update the synagogue website. By themselves, none of these things are worth writing home about. Together, accumulated over a lifetime, they leave a legacy.
From an article by Rabbi Shimon Posner
Whenever things got worse, Jews would say, “This is a sign! Moshiach is coming!” But in those days, a messianic era would have meant a radical change in the natural order of things. Today, though the human soul sleeps a deep slumber of materialism, the material world itself is prepared.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
“Why do you have such a big house with so few children?” Whenever I feel deprived, unsatisfied with what I own, I remind myself of this question. A young Israeli girl was visiting America with her mother. When she saw my friend’s tiny (by American standards) duplex with four (quite a brood in America) young children running about, she was so confused! How could such a huge house (by Israeli standards) be the shelter for this tiny (again, by Israeli standards) family? Imagine feeling perplexed at the notion of taking up more space than one needs.
At the other end of the spectrum, my husband works in the world of high finance, where some of the most fortunate people have made millions, and occasionally, even billions. Unfortunately, they rarely gain satisfaction through their wealth. The millionaires complain of the expense of owning a second home. A man with tens of millions, the owner of several homes around the world and a private jet, related wistfully of a colleague who built his own landing strip to more efficiently reach his island home. This man, in turn, lamented his landing strip compared to the man who owned a private island. So where does it stop?
It stops with Jacob. In the Torah portion of Vayishlach, Jacob is set to meet his brother Esau after years of estrangement since Jacob received the blessing from their father Isaac. Jacob knows that Esau is approaching with 400 men, yet it is unclear what his intentions are. Is he coming to seek revenge or reconciliation? After preparing for either outcome through an escape plan, prayer, and pre-emptive gifts, the brothers meet face to face. Much to Jacob’s relief, it is a peaceful reunion.
Esau politely refuses Jacob’s generous gifts, “I have rav—a lot,” he tells him. Jacob implores him to accept, “I have kol—all.” Amazingly, an entire universe exists between these two monosyllabic Hebrew words! Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, tells us that Esau’s rav conveys arrogance. In stating that he has much, he is expressing that he has more than he will ever need, Jacob’s gifts will simply be another materialistic acquisition in his already overflowing coffers.
Jacob has all, everything he needs. Even in giving this very generous gift to his brother, he still has everything—he does not measure his worth through material goods. He sees his wealth as a means to allow him to continue his spiritual work, strengthening his and his family’s connection with each other and with G-d.
Esau’s material wealth appears to have interfered with what really matters in life. Rash points out that Jacob and his family, which number 70 at the beginning of Exodus, are referred to as one soul, nefesh. Esau’s family, though numbering only six, are referred to later in the Torah portion with the word for plural souls, nefashot (Breishit 46:26). Money can not make up for family disunity. In fact, strife comes to Jacob’s house later on because of a material imbalance among the brothers: Joseph’s coat of many colors.
No amount of wealth can guarantee a sense of satisfaction with life. Any visit to the supermarket checkout line with its glaring tabloid headlines can attest to this. In fact, as the little girl visiting from Israel can attest, everyone has a chance to achieve Jacob’s sense of kol, everything. As the Sages say, “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot.”