Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Vayishlach - 5774

My friends,

This Shabbat, we read the portion of Vayishlach. Jacob leaves his father-in-law's town and heads with his wives and 11 children towards Canaan. He is still afraid of his brother Esau and sends messengers to inform him of his return. To appease his brother he sends a lavish gift of 550 animals - sheep, cattle, etc. He prays to G-d to protect him from his brother. Although G-d had promised him (when he was leaving Canaan in the dream with the ladder) that He would watch over him and be with him, it seems that Jacob was still very frightened and stressed from having to face his brother Esau.

After helping his family cross the Jordan River (Yabbok crossing) he is left alone and has an encounter with a mysterious being. They wrestle all night, and the mysterious being asks Jacob to let him go. Jacob refuses to let him go unless he blesses him. The man blesses him and tells him that his name shall no longer be "Jacob", but "Israel", because he had wrestled with humans and G-d, and was able to prevail.

When reading the story of Jacob, the Torah describes him as a trickster who uses deceit to get the birthright and his father's blessing. He is also deceived by his father-in-law, by his own children, and has a life of fear and weakness. Now, just before entering the promised land, his name is changed to Israel, a new person.

The experience of our people for the past 2000 years had been one of fear and dependence on the goodness of others, to be able to live in Galut, in the lands of our dispersion. There is a long history of oppression and times when we had to bribe our way to be able to live in certain places. We also experienced exile and annihilation. We are privileged to live at a time when the name Israel has finally been revived and brought to reality, with the establishment of the State of Israel.

G-d's promise that Jacob is no longer 'Jacob' but 'Israel', a free country who need not be afraid, but can stand up and be counted among the nations of the world, has finally been fulfilled. It only took 3000 years, but we are happy.

For our individual lives - don't be afraid of the past. Be strong and look with hope and confidence to the future.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram