This week’sparashah,Vayishlach, reads like the script of the next Quentin Tarantino movie. It haseverything:fromdeath, violence,abduction andrevenge, tothe supernatural andevenfamilybroiges.
It tells the story of Jacob,who returns to theHolyLand hoping to reconcile with his estranged brother Esau.Before he is able todo so, he is visited in the night by an angel with whom he wrestles until morning, suffering a dislocated hip in the process.Jacob emerges victorious,and afterhe reconcileswith Esau,thestory turns to Jacob’s wife andchildrenin the city of Shechem.Jacob’s daughterDinah is abductedby the prince of Shechem, and Jacob’s sonsSimeon and Levi avengethis bymurderingallthe male inhabitantsof the city. Jacob’s journey continues,and before long tragedy strikes again whenhis second wifeRachel dies in childbirth. Reuben, Jacob’s first son, thenloses hisbirthrightfor interfering in his father’s marital life,and the storydraws to a close with the death of Isaac at the age of 180.
Once we’veallhad the chance to pausefor breath, IwillfocusonJacob’s clash with the angel. Over time, this has been interpreted by the Rabbis invariousways.Rashicomments thatthe angel was Esau’s ministering angel.I understand this asJacob havingto overcome his fear ofretributionfor stealinghisbrother’sbirthright,trustingthat their brotherly bond would overpower any feelings of envy or vengeanceinEsau.
This is a powerful message for all of us.Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel,and Esauovercamehisresentmentfor Jacob, we, as individuals, a communityanda nation must battle with our own metaphorical angels. If we are to have any chance in this eternal battle, we must fight using deep introspection. Along this journey of self-reflection, mankind hasobsessed itself with theunfathomable questions thatdefine us. The most fundamental of these is:why do we exist?
This is a question that I’munable toanswer. Butnow that we are here, it is up to us to make the best of it. We must all wrestle with our own selfish urges and desires to ensure that they do not overwhelm us and dictate the way we live our lives. We havein theoryestablisheda society thatis based aroundus controllingand managingthese feelings,butalack ofself-control hasalwaysplagued our species andwillcontinueto do so until the very end. The more we allow feelings of greed, envy, hatredand vengeanceto control us, the closer we bring our species to the end.
So how can we as Jews make a difference? In short, it won’t be easy!Here’s astatistic that has always fascinated and humbled me:there were twice as many people in the 1.8% margin of error in the 2010 Chinese census than there are Jews in the world. This used to stir upin mea feeling of overwhelming powerlessness, until I realised that if every Jew had that attitude, we’d be doomed!
If, like Jacoband Esau, we can all vanquish our own internal angels by giving a little more,thinking a little more and doing a little more foreach otherand the planet we live in, we might just be ableto create a lasting culture of TikunOlam.So instead of wrestling with unanswerable questions, we should all be asking ourselves, how can I make thisworld a better placefor those around me and for generations to come.
Jonny Kay, along with his wife, Sam Kay, is a member of NNLS.Jonny is a financial services solicitor at a global insurance company.