Thursday, November 29, 2012

Oh Well a Touch of Grey Kind of Suits You Anyway ( Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia "Touch of Grey")

Our eldest daughter is home visiting for a few weeks. The last time we saw her was this past August.  When she arrived home and was sitting with her sisters and brother, she commented on  how gray my hair had become over the past 3 ½ months. Her siblings agreed explaining that the graying was occurring at a quicker rate. While everyone had a nice little chuckle at my expense, our eldest daughter looked up and asked if I have been worrying more than usual.  “Well there are the usual things that I always worry about, life's regular stresses: raising kids, a newly bought home, a bat mitzvah, work and marriage.” Then I explained that there are all the other things that cause me to wake up in the middle of the night in a worried, anxious sweat. “You know, the big existential anxiety ridden things that cause one to have sleepless nights,  life, death, the quality of life and the quality of death,  what am I doing with my life, how am I going to pay for day school, college and weddings, you know the stuff that a middle age person wrestles with.” Then I tried to cheer her up by telling her that she is twenty five years from having to deal with this stuff. Make no mistake about it, we all go through a period of time where we struggle with the existential angst of life, and for some reason it occurs late at night while everyone else sleeps soundly.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Vayishlach. Yaakov and his family prepare to return to Yaakov’s home. However they will first need to deal with an almost twenty year grudge held by Esav. Yaakov will hope for the best and prepare for the worst as he prepares to meet his brother.  After their short reunion, Yaakov makes his way back to his ancestral lands. His mother passes away. He is blessed with another son, Benjamin, born to his wife Rachel. However she dies in childbirth. His daughter, Dinah, has an illicit relationship with a prince of Shechem. According to the text, she is rendered “impure” and her brothers wipe out the prince and his village. Yaakov’s name is changed to Yisroel. God blessed Yaakov  within the context of the covenant made with Avraham and Yitzchok. Yaakov’s blessing includes, children, land and wealth, all of the things that God promised to Yaakov’s grandfather – Avraham. The Parsha concludes Yaakov and Esav seeing each other one last time in order to bury their father Yitzchok, and then we read the final psukim: a list of Esav’s descendants down to grandchildren.
The parsha is replete with dramatic moments. However the brief narrative about Yaakov’s night prior to his first meeting with Esav, offers us a life changing moment in Yaakov’s life.  VaYivater Yaakov L’Vado, VaYei’avek Ish Imo Ad A lot HaShacharJacob was left alone and a many wrestled with him until the break of dawn.  VaYar Ki Lo Yachol Lo VYiga B’Chaf Yereicho VaTeikah Kaf Yerech Yaakov  B’Hei’Avko Imo When he perceive that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Jacob’s hip socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him.  VaYomer Shalcheini Ki Alah Hashachar Vayomer Lo Ashaleichecha Ki Im BeiractaniThen he said, “Let me go, for dawn has broken. “ And he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Vayomer Eilav Mah Shemecha VaYomer Yaakovand he said to him, “what is your name” and he said “Jacob”. Vayomer Lo Yaakov Yei’Amar Od Shimcha Ki Im Yisroel Ki Sarita Im Elohim V’Im Anashim VatuchalHe said, “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you fought with the Divine and with man and have overcome.” ( Gen 32:25-29) So if Yaakov was left alone, with whom did he wrestle?  The Torah tells us he wrestled with  a man, however by the end of this brief narrative, Yaakov is asking the man(?) to bless him.  The M’forshim also struggle with this brief narrative.  Rashi reminds us of how our sages explained who this “man” was. According to our sages  Sh’Hu Saro Shel Eisavthat it was the guardian angel of Esav.  Chizkuni – the 13th century French commentator succinctly states Malach B’Damut Ishan angel in the form of a man. Radak, Rabbi David Kimchi – a late 12/early 13th century French commentator is even more explicit. He offers a one word explanation as to the “man’s” identity – Melach – an angel. Some say it was the guardian angel of Esav and some say it was an Angel sent to restate God’s promise to Yaakov.
          However a more modern and psychologically aware understanding seems that the “man” is Yaakov. Yaakov is struggling with himself. The language of the wrestling match only uses the Hebrew word “Hu” – in English "he". He said, he held on, he didn’t let go, he blessed him, he wrestled with him. Yaakov’s name is only mentioned when his hip is pulled out of joint, when he states his name and when the other being renames Yaakov. The actual “play by play” deliberately uses the third person singular pronoun as opposed to proper nouns. Yaakov’s whole life has been a struggle… first with Esav, God,  and then Lavan. Before his impending struggle with Esav, Yaakov needs to know who exactly Yaakov is and who he clings to – which aspect of himself does he cling to? The godly aspect within him? The Esav within him? The reality is, Yaakov must decide who he is and what that means as he returns to his ancestral home and receives the covenant.  It will leave a mark for sure, however during his sleepless night, during his “mid life crisis” and his “moment of clarity”; Yaakov will finally be a complete spiritual person with a full acceptance of his relationship to God and a sense of purpose in his life. This does not mean his life will be easier. It just means that Yaakov, with this renewed sense of purpose and identity will be able to deal with all the troubles and heartache that is involved in living life.
          Of course I have gray hair. Of course it is getting grayer. There are more worries, there are more things that feel beyond my control.  There are more times that I worry about the direction of my life and whether  this is the right path. No we don’t necessarily have our hips pulled out of joint when we wake up in the middle of the night with this existential angst. However we do have the emotional scars of such moments. Our souls struggle and are sometimes scarred because of those moments when we question our purpose in life. It probably causes wrinkles and definitely causes gray hair. However those struggles are necessary because it leads us to moments of clarity, and we understand that our lives do have purpose, and our families will be OK and everything will be all right.
Rav Yitz

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