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Parashat Vayishlach: Running From Ourselves

What do we run from when we run?

We do not always have the integrity, nor the wisdom, nor the strength to face those people or things that confront us or frighten us. Sometimes it’s hard for us to admit it, but it happens. How much harder, though, is it when who we can’t face ourselves?

Encountering our own shortcomings, our own mistakes, our own handicaps is the hardest part. Moreover, if those characteristics have hurt, separated or made enemies of others... many times we need an even greater inner power (or sometimes help from an external force) to deal with it or recognize it.

It wasn’t any different with Ya'akov Avinu.

We know who Ya'akov was until now: a person who sought to take advantage of whomever was in front of him. At his birth, pulling his brother’s foot, according to the midrash, to try to get out first. With Esav again in the purchase of the birthright for a stew of lentils. Also surpassing his uncle Laban in the distribution of cattle.

Sometimes he was successful, other times he had to hide, escape or submit to the designs of those deceiving him...

Everything changes when he confronts the Creator’s messenger in his dream.

Was it a dream? A moment of deep reflection? Who is this messenger?

And what fight was that, in which someone who comes from the hand of the Kadosh Baruch Hu fails to defeat a mortal? Or, better still, what fight was that, in which the supposed winner is the one who is affected by a chronic limp and the loser is the one who walks away unscathed?

Yaakov had a lot to deal with. If the time was coming to change, to settle down to form the family and, most of all, meet again with his ghosts regarding his own brother—whom he had repeatedly defrauded—, SOMETHING had to change.

The change was looking inside; confronting himself and not coming out unscathed. And above all things, the prize, the trophy of that fight, had nothing to do with who would win it, but rather with who would fight it and against whom. The mere fact of deciding to face oneself is in itself a win.

The messenger of the Lord made it very clear:

“Vayomer, lo Yaakov yeamer od shimcha, ki im Israel, ki sarita im Elohim veim anashim vatuchal.” (“And the angel said to him: ‘Your name will no longer be called Yaakov, but Israel; for you fought with God and with men and you prevailed.’” (Bereshit 32, 29)

In a better reading, the name of Israel was earned for having fought, “ki sarita” and for having prevailed, “vatuchal.” Not for being the winner.

That is the challenge.

To not get carried away by apathy or comfort, but to face ourselves and our dark, gray places. In this confrontation, to try to improve ourselves and be better neighbors, neighbors, citizens, members of whichever community— that is where we are victors a priori, for the mere fact of seeking to improve ourselves, daring to face what we internally know that we must change in ourselves.

Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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