I hope everyone has had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
This week, in Parasha Vayishlach, we pick up Jacob’s story as he leaves the home of Laban, his father-in-law, in Padan-aram. Jacob has lived there for 20 years and is traveling home to Canaan.
Jacob’s brother Esau lives in Canaan, and Jacob fears Esau still hates him because Jacob “stole” Esau’s birthright and blessing. Always the example of a good Scout, Jacob wants to Be Prepared. Jacob is very righteous, so the malachim(divine beings we think of as angels) help him. He sends malachim to seek out Esau. They return with the news that Esau and an army of 400 men are coming to Jacob!
Jacob takes a number of precautions. He divides his family, servants, herds and flocks into two camps so that if Esau strikes down one camp, the other will survive. He prays for protection. He tries to appease Esau: The next morning, he sends several groups of servants to Esau. Each group has very impressive gifts – flocks of goats, ewes and rams, and donkeys. Jacob orders his servants to tell Esau that these gifts are “Your servant’s, Jacob. It is a tribute sent to my lord, to Esau, and behold he himself is behind us.”
Jacob gets up in the middle of the night and takes his wives and 11 sons and crosses the ford of the River Jabbok. He returns alone to the other side, where he encounters a man and they wrestle until the break of dawn. The man cannot overcome him, so he hits Jacob in his hip-socket and dislocates it. By now, Jacob suspects the “man” is really one of the malachim. The man tells Jacob to let him go, and Jacob refuses unless the man blesses him. The man then says, “No longer will your name be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have fought with something divine and with man and have overcome.” (In Hebrew yisra is “to overcome” and El is one of God’s names.)
In the morning Esau and Jacob meet, have a tearful encounter, and reconcile. Jacob continues on his way with his family and household.
As part of Being Prepared, Jacob prayed. Part of his prayer especially appeals to me: “I have been diminished by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have done your servant; for with my staff I crossed the Jordan and now I have become two camps.” (Genesis 32:11). I like several things about this prayer.
- Jacob recognizes that he needs God’s help. Being Trustworthy means not only that people can trust you, but that you are willing to trust others who are worthy of trust. Jacob trusts God.
- Jacob is thankful. He says he has been diminished by all the kindnesses and truth God has shown him. Rashi explains Jacob fears that, since the time God blessed him many years before, he has sinned and is not worthy to be saved from Esau. By being thankful to God, Jacob is Loyal to God.
- Jacob is humble. He acknowledges to God that “with my staff I crossed the Jordan and now I have become two camps.” This means when he crossed the Jordan River to go to Padan-aram 20 years earlier, all he had was a staff – a walking stick. Now, because of God’s blessings, he has such a large family and household of servants and so many animals, he can fill two camps. Recognizing God’s importance in your life is the best way to be Reverent.
There is one other Scout connection I like about this prayer. To symbolize how he started with nothing, Jacob describes himself as having only a staff when he first crossed the Jordan. This is a piece of equipment that Scouts have had since the very beginning. When Baden-Powell described the first Scout uniform, it included a staff because he found it so useful in hiking and camping as to be necessary. A staff can be found almost anywhere and, if you make one from a strong branch that has recently fallen off a tree or is being pruned, it costs nothing. The Torah – our guide to living – is something else that is necessary as we hike along through life and can be acquired by everyone.
Next week we begin to learn about the Children of Israel’s journey down to Egypt, leading to centuries of slavery and then redemption. During this journey we will see leaders use staffs many times, and have the opportunity to think about what that represents.
So get ready for a trek through an inspiring story! Cinch your belt tight, double knot your hiking shoes, grab your hat and your water bottle. And don’t forget your staff.