Friday, December 16, 2016

We are not alone - An Original Midrash on Jacob's daybreak encounter - Parashat Vayishlach - December 16, 2016

After he heard that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men, Jacob had no idea of Esau's intentions, but he knew that there was a strong possibility that his brother had come to seek revenge for Jacob's deception early in their lives. 
So Jacob sent his family across the Jabok River.  Rather than joining them, he stayed behind for a moment to gather his thoughts and his courage. 
Jacob was left alone. 
Or so he thought. 
Out of nowhere, a man appeared.  He lunged toward Jacob, hoping to take him to down to the ground. 
Jacob, not knowing he had such strength, resisted with great success. As they struggled, Jacob struck the man's hip, and, in an instant, his own hip was strained.   
But Jacob was in control. 
"Let me go, for the day is breaking," the man said. 
Jacob said, "I won't let you go, unless you bless me."  
The man asked, "What is your name?"  The answer came, "Jacob." 
But Jacob continued, "Who are you and what are you doing here?  I just sent my family across the river.  I was preoccupied with the impending arrival of my brother.". 
As the man look intently into Jacob's eyes, for some reason, he felt safe enough to add more to his story.   "I have no doubt that he holds a grudge because I convinced him to  negotiate away his birthright and, with my mother's support, I took the blessing of the first born right out from under him.   He received a blessing, too, but not the one he thought he deserved.  I left home, and God has brought me prosperity, but not without some challenges along the way.   All I wanted was to be alone to prepare myself to see Esau.  Why are you here???"
The man said, "Jacob, do you really think YOU could ever be alone?   You are the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the grandson of Abraham and Sarah.  Even I know that your descendants will become a great people!"
Jacob was surprised, "How do YOU know THAT?" 
The man said, "It's not important how I know.  But I know. Wherever you go, Jacob, your past, your deeds, your beliefs follow you.  I know that your mother Rebekah believed you to be the son to follow the ways of God.   I know you had a dream at Beth El and said that, if God brought you back there safely, then you would be close to God always.  I understand what happened with your uncle Laban, and with your wives, and how Laban tried to deceive you.  It's written all over your face and in your heart."
"You can really tell all that just from looking at me?" Asked Jacob.   
The man replied, "Yes, but let's say I have special sources that let me know all that you have experienced.  Even so, Jacob, you are not alone.  Remember those angels going up and down on that ladder?  They were there to protect you.  Now it's my turn." 
Jacob's eyes were wide, "You're an angel?"  
The man clarified, "Well, not exactly.  Let's just say that I am the sum total of your life until now, joining you in this place as you get ready for one more confrontation that might not go well.  I can tell you, though, Jacob, that you are up to it.  You gave me quite a fight.   And you know why?  You are Isaac's son, and for all that he went through, he still had a touch of his father's spirit.  You are Rebekah's son: resourceful, insightful, seeing the big picture, which you could do, if only you would allow yourself to do so.  Any person, even if he or she is alone, is not alone, Jacob. All that you have been until this day will take you into the future and help determine what you will come to be.   But that doesn't mean that there isn't at least one change that will come from our encounter."
Jacob was puzzled, "What do you mean?  I just beat you handily in a wrestling match.  Isn't that enough?"  
The man was quick to answer, "No, probably not.  You did prevail over me, at this moment.   There is one thing we need to do. Your name means 'the one who grabbed onto the heal of his brother,' or maybe 'the one who will supplant his brother.'  Not much of a name, if you ask me.  How about this?  You will be Israel - "the one who struggles with God."  Because that's what you have done all your life.   And, at this moment, you have come into your own.  You are ready to be the man you need to be to see your brother Esau again, and you are the man who will be the progenitor of a great nation that will spread in all directions."  
Jacob thought for a moment, and softly spoke.  "Israel - yes, I can feel how that name is good for me now and for the rest of my life."  He looked up to the sky, "God, thank you for making this moment happen that helped me become who I need to be." Jacob then asked the man his name, and was told not to ask.  The man blessed him there.  
And soon, Jacob, now Israel, crossed the river, rejoined his family, and met his brother Esau, who ran up to him and hugged and kissed him. Israel said to him, "Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God."  
And Israel knew that he would find God in every person he met, if he could only look deep enough. 
And he knew one more thing. 
He would never ever feel alone again.   

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