Parshat Vayeshev

Torah Reading for Week of December 2-8, 2012

“The Trials of Jacob – Growing through Adversity”
By Rabbi Aaron Parry, AJRCA Professor of Rabbinics

There was a song I vividly remember from my ‘70’s sojourn into pop music called “Needle And The Damage Done.” I’m not sure who first wrote it but I heard Neil Young sing it in concert:

I’ve seen the needle
and the damage done
a little part of us in everyone
every junkie’s like a setting sun

Whether or not there’s a little “junkie,” in each and every one of us is subject to debate, however, I know each Jew has the spark of our Avos and Imahos within and that there are significant ramifications as a result. Take this week’s parsha, for instance, Vayeshev. Jewish life is so unpredictable and enigmatic. Yaacov wants to “rest” (Vayeshev) and take respite from the grueling, hard-earned victories in the challenges with Lavan and Esav. He figures the worst is behind him. But the show is just about to begin. Who could predict that after one heck of a sibling rivalry between Yaacov and Eisav that the most riveting sibling controversy in Jewish history would now begin?

All sorts of mysterious and inexplicable events conspire to create this incredibly dramatic and beyond-Hollywood story. What possessed Yaakov to give Yosef a special kaleidoscopic tunic and demonstrate such affection and favoritism in front of his other children? Why does he send Yosef on such an obviously dangerous mission to “find” his brothers? Who is the mysterious man that leads into the lair of Shimon and Levi? And why do all these events lead to the sale of Yosef as a slave destined for Egyptian bondage? Finally, later in the parsha, how does Yehuda commit such a seemingly immoral act and why is he instead rewarded as being the ancestor of Jewish monarchy and messianic destiny?

The Ishbitza, Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, (an early 19th Century rabbinic and Hasidic thinker and founder of the Izhbitza-Radzyn dynasty of Hasidic Judaism and disciple of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk) shares a most perceptive insight into the way G-d challenges each one of us. When Yaakov prevails over the angel of Esav, this adversary himself renames Yaakov to Yisrael, as the Torah proclaims “For you strove with angelic beings and man and have prevailed.” The Ishbitza asks “Why doesn’t the Torah use the word ‘Netzeach’ (connoting “victorious,”) instead of the tentative language ‘Tuchal,’ (lit. “you were able,” or prevail)?”

Contained in his answer is the “little part of Yaakov in everyone.” That is, when a person is given a hurdle and overcomes it after great effort, human nature calls for a reprieve, and patting on the back. But “der mentsh trakht un Gott lakht,” and instead of a pat on the back, there’s a potch on the thigh and a not-so-subtle reminder that the war is far from over. There are many battles to be fought in the intrigue and mystic of life. Just when you believe things are returning to “normal,” there appear on the horizon more formidable foes to be vanquished. What’s in store for us upon fighting the good fight, after 120 years?

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in the first stanza of her poem read at the Reunion of the Society of the Grand Army of the Tennessee, at Madison, Wisconsin, July 4th, 1872, wrote:

After the battles are over,
And the war drums cease to beat,
And no more is heard on the hillside
The sound of hurrying feet,
Full many a noble action,
That was done in the days of strife,
By the soldier is half forgotten,
In the peaceful walks of life.

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