In this week’s Torah reading, Vayishlach, we see Jacob wrestling with an angel all night until daybreak. It results in an injury – the angel grabs Jacob’s thigh, injuring his nerve and causing him to limp for the rest of his life. The severity of that injury has significance both in how it speaks to us in our Jewish identity, as well as how it remains silent.
Before Jacob is injured, he demands that the angel bless him, and the angel tells Jacob his name will be changed to Israel. According to the angel, the name means Jacob will struggle with people and with God but will be enabled to meet those challenges. In the same moment of such a strong blessing we also hear of such a grave injury. The two extremes sitting side by side teach Jews that Covenant conveys blessings but it is not a shield against injury or pain. Jewish identity will always contain both the blessings and the pain.
On a personal level, the injury remains silent. The Torah tells us Jacob will now limp but Jacob himself never refers to it. We do not hear him speak to his family of ever being in pain or ever feeling limited because of his limp.
After Jacob, the Torah introduces us to our next leader, Moses. Like Jacob, Moses also has a handicap which we learn of when he speaks with God at the burning bush. Moses tells God he has a speech impediment. Interestingly, God does not view it as a handicap and nowhere in Torah do we ever see anyone asking Moses to repeat himself because they can’t understand him. Moses is the only one who sees his limitation and he feels insecure because of it.
Two leaders stand side by side, both have physical limitations, but Jacob does not define himself by it while Moses does. It challenges us to ask how much of how we perceive ourselves is based on self-imposed limitations. Among the many things we learn from Jacob is this subtle detail of personal empowerment: choose the blessings over the pain, and question ourselves about our perceived limitations.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.