Thursday, November 25, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Andrew Young on Vayishlach

Shabbat Shalom!

Good morning, everyone. My name is Andrew Young and I’ll be your host for this edition of, ESPN’s Torah-Center, the world’s most comprehensive telecast for anything related to Jews and Sports.

And that’s the end of our show today...thanks for coming.

No, just kidding. In fact, there’s lots of news today, and believe it or not, it all has to do with this week’s Torah portion.

This week’s portion is Va-yish-lach. It begins with Jacob sending his messengers to speak to Esau. The two hadn’t seen each other in 20 years, since the big birthright upset. Jacob’s messengers return and report that Esau is on his way to see Jacob, along with 400 armed men. Apparently, Esau likes to bring his own fans, preferring not to give anyone home-field advantage.

Not surprisingly, Jacob is afraid. He fears that Esau will kill him and his family. So he divides his family and his possessions into two, hoping that one half could escape if the other is attacked by Esau and his men.

Jacob then prays to God for protection. He starts sending Esau and his advancing men a parade of gifts. The Torah tells us specifically what he sent – two hundred female goats; twenty male goats; two hundred female sheep; twenty rams; thirty camels and their colts, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty donkeys and ten horses. Personally, I wouldn’t be very pleased with any of those gifts, and neither would my mom. That, sports fans, is a lot of pets!

But, the night before that happens, Jacob wrestles with someone, and emerges victorious from an all-night steel cage wrestling match... OK, so maybe there was no steel cage. The mysterious opponent is either God, an angel, himself, or maybe even Esau! Jacob emerges the champion, but he injures his hamstring. Not bad enough to be put on the DL, at least not back then when men were a lot tougher. But the injury is bad enough that he’s limping, and he clearly complains quite a bit about it, because all Jews then decide not to eat the part of the thigh that Jacob injured, somehow insisting that we needed another rule about keeping kosher. As if we needed even more of those rules! During the fight, Jacob might have had some memory loss, because he keeps telling everyone that his name isn’t Jacob, but Israel, which means “someone who has wrestled with God and prevailed.”

You know, in Judaism, we wrestle with ourselves a lot, trying to stretch ourselves to the limit and beyond and do things we wouldn’t normally be able to do. This reminds me of some of my experiences on the baseball diamond, like the time I was given a game ball and I felt my teammate deserved it more. So I gave it to him. But then he gave it back to me and we just kept tossing it back and forth. The two of us were sort of wrestling for the other one to have the ball, even though both of us hoped to get it. In a way, I was struggling with myself to be a good teammate every bit as much as I was struggling with him over the ball.

Some people believe that Jacob may have been wrestling with an angel, or with Esau, or Esau’s shadow - but I believe he was really wrestling with his own fears. All his life he had been running away from those fears, and from Esau. It was time to confront both of them. And once he did that, he was not the same person anymore. So it was time for him to have a new name.

Anyway, he survives the wrestling match, and when he finally meets Esau, he’s relieved to see that, after 20 years, Esau is no longer mad at him. The two brothers kiss and hug and cry together.

This wasn’t an easy reunion for Jacob. Like a lot of things that we worry about, in hindsight, there wasn’t a lot to worry about. But if I look at Jacob’s side of the story as not just worrying, but also preparing as best as he knew how, I see the whole story a little differently. Despite the happy outcome of the reunion, this was a big deal for Jacob, and he prepared for it like it was Game 7 of the World Series. And he let everyone know it was a big deal, and he bothered half his family and a whole lot of animals in the process.

Jacob and Esau might be considered one of the earliest examples of true sibling rivalry. So in a way, I’ve been preparing for this portion, even living it, for the last several years. It’s been difficult, because of course, I know NOTHING about sibling rivalry. Right Marissa?

Seriously, I’ve worked hard, and for me, today is a big deal that involved a lot of worrying and a lot of preparation.

I know it’s not over, just like Jacob and Esau’s reunion was not the end of their story. But it’s nice to reach a resting point where I can stop worrying for a little while and celebrate with people who are so important to me.

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