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Balancing Polarities, Jacob Becomes Israel


TORAH [Teaching/Tale]: In this week’s Torah portion, Va’yishlach, Jacob begins by naming the place Mahanayim [twin camps]. He divides his family into two camps out of fear, fear that his brother Esau wishes to exact revenge upon Jacob for stealing his birthrite and blessing. If one camp is attacked, perhaps the other will survive. He seems resigned to conflict and loss. If a “casting off” [va’yishlach] is required for Jacob and his family to be able to ford this river, how would you describe the ‘letting go’ that he needs to do? If you were in his shoes, how would you prepare yourself for just a crossing over?

Dvar acher [Another approach]: There are two rivers Jacob must cross in order to return home, the Jabbok [Yabbok], and then the Jordan [Yarden], into which the former feeds. Yabbok comes from the root word that means “to empty,” mimicking the sound made when emptying a bottle. Yarden means, “he will descend.” What gets emptied and why? What descent is required before he can ascend, face his brother, and return home with his family in tact?

MIDAH [Virtue/Value]: Netzach and Hod (or Hodiyah) as complementary polarities, ambition with acceptance, competition and cooperation, enthusiasm and patience, power and grace – striving for what can be AND appreciating what is. Up until this point in Jacob’s life, he exhibits the midah of Netzach [striving for victory] in spades. By wrestling to face his fear and integrate balanced measures of ambition and acceptance, longing and gratitude, he earns a new name, Israel, namesake of the Jewish people. Note that Israel means to Strive or wrestle, while Judah [Jew] means 'thankful one.'

MITZVAH [Obligation to Other]: Balance speech with silence. Own with pride that you DO have something of value to say, AND WAIT with humility. Breathe and consider if and how your words can be of lasting benefit to the listener/s. If so, speak with confidence in the truth and value of your experience and your loving intent. STrive to use words to benefot the other, and appreciate the space between words (the silences) for the listening and connecting that they offer.

AVODAH [Spi-Ritual Practice]: Use the prayer-blessing “mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenotecha Yisrael – How goodly are the tents of Jacob, the sanctuaries of Israel” as a daily reminder of the aim of balancing netzach [ambitious drive] and hod [grateful acceptance].

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