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Wrestling with conflicting aspects of ourselves

12/11/2019 12:14:24 PM


Josh Conescu

It is often difficult to separate from our past. I am now the child of who I was then. Torah begins with a convulsive separation - a force named God wills itself into being, speaking a separation of darkness from light. Bereshit amplifies motifs of “separation” - from Eden, from home, from one’s own name. If we look at Bereshit as a series of separations, we might consider three distinct creation stories: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Abraham, The Creation of Joseph. This week’s parashah, Vayishlach, is the whipsawing final chapter in “The Creation of Abraham."
Jacob “sent” (
vayishlach) messengers to greet his brother Esau, an encounter avoided for 20 years. Jacob experiences a disconcerting number of separations this week: from his long-held story about a revenge seeking brother, from his brother, from his birth name to the name Israel (God wrestler), from his beloved wife Rachel, who dies in childbirth; from his father, who dies in old age, and again, from Jacob to Israel.
It is often difficult to resolve the conflicting stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Unlike his grandfather, Abraham (born Avram), Jacob’s name change is not a consistent one. Abraham forever separates himself from Avram, but Jacob is incapable of that full-on separation. For the rest of his story, he is called by both names, sometimes Jacob, sometimes Israel. Jacob finds an Abrahamic separation impossible. In Jacob’s recognition of this impossibility, we can acknowledge the Jacob/Israel duality resonating in all of us. Like Jacob/Israel, we constantly wrestle with conflicting aspects of ourselves.
Vayishlach teaches that our first task is to make peace with ourselves, living echad, as one, in shalem, wholeness with all of them, as harmoniously as possible.

Josh Conescu is a teacher at Temple Shalom.

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780