According to the Avot Treaty, in chapter 3, it is Rabbi Akiva who teaches us that Hakol tzafui vehareshut netuna "Everything is foreseen, but choice is possible."
Our behaviors tend to follow certain parameters inherent to our personality. We usually get angry about the same things; we tend to react in the same way to the same stimuli or situations; we often hold onto our opinions even in the face of truths presented before our eyes.
Changes in our ways of being and acting are difficult, and so the days, months, and years pass by in discussions and sometimes confrontations, the origins of which we may not even remember.
There are events in our lives that mark terrible changes that we must face, and our lives change forever. We lose people, opportunities, relationships, business, positions, jobs, loved ones. We can lament the events or confront them, go through the necessary mourning, and reinvent ourselves. Our People of Israel have always done this and managed to endure despite enormous losses, exiles, prohibitions, persecutions, and many other adversities.
Twisting destiny or changing the course of our lives is one of the deepest and most complicated challenges presented to us by Parashat Vaishlach.
In it, we see a Jacob who "remained alone and wrestled with a man until the break of dawn" (Genesis 22:25). A "man" whom tradition classified as a messenger of God, an angel. But it could have been a highwayman who assaulted him in his solitude, or perhaps his own inner self admonishing him just before the crucial moment in his life when he was about to face his brother Esau, the one he had decieved on more than one occasion.
Jacon, the deceiver, the cunning one who had spent the first part of his life trying to take advantage of others, had now experienced the deception of his father-in-law firsthand for 20 years. And now he was about to face the most painful outcome of his deception: the one that had separated him from his family of origin, his land, and his surroundings. The whole episode of deceiving his father and brother for the birthright.
And in that almost surreal encounter, he fought. There was no apparent reason for the fight. There was no provocation. There were no words of offense. Why was Jacob fighting? Why did that man confront him?
Surely, there was no "man" at all. Surely THAT was precisely the reason why the one who faced our third patriarch had to be given the status of a messenger of God. Because the struggle was Jacob's struggle with himself, debating how to redirect the destiny he no longer wanted to follow. From within himself, the other Jaco was emerging, the one who would be worthy of a new name: "Israel," the upright. The one who straightened his path, his life, his destiny with God's help.
For Jacob, the name change was a consequence of that struggle. And from that change, he could face his destiny and reuine with his brother, returning to his land and his origins.
Ha kol tzafui, va ha reshut netuna. Everything is foreseen, but choice is possible. It is up to us to improve as individuals, reviewing our paths and actions, reinventing ourselves as better people with better relationships and repairing bonds, confirming that our choices are valid, in order to, as Rabbi Akiva concludes, judge the world with benevolence.
May we have the wisdom to do so. To judge others more benevolently than ourselves.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier