Many of you know that I am a big fan of superheroes; so Vayishlach is a perfect Torah portion for me. It is action-packed with battles, revenge, an exciting wrestling match and a hero who is transformed and takes on a new identity. Everything you need for a great superhero episode.
The main character is Yaakov, and the villain is Esav. Yaakov has many adventures that I could talk about today, but I am going to focus on his famous wrestling match, and how it transformed him and his relationship with his brother Esav.
Like with any superhero, you first need to understand the superhero’s backstory. So for those of you who weren't here a couple weeks ago, Yakkov and Esav are twins and Esav was born first, but Yakkov had thought he should have been first-- so he came out holding Esav's heel. The name Yakkov actually means heel.
The brothers were very different. Esav was a fierce hunter and Yakkov was a more spiritual person. The brothers had a major rivalry and Yakkov convinced Esav to trade away his birthright for a bowl of soup. Yakkov then pretended to be Esav, and tricked his father Isaac into blessing him as the first born. Esav got angry and Yakkov's mother told Yakkov to run away, which he did. He stayed away for over 14 years, got married twice and had lots of kids and lots of animals (see Dad? He loved pets)
So that leads us to today's Parsha – – G-d tells Yakkov to go back to his land and while Yakkov is traveling he learns that Esav is coming his way with 400 armed men. So Yakkov tries to get his family ready for what he thinks is going to be an attack by Esav, and then he goes off on his own to get himself mentally prepared.
The Parsha tells us that during the night, “Yakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” “Va-ye-va-tear Yakov livado, va-yay-ah-vake eesh emo ad alot ha-shachar.”
The first question I had is how can a person be alone and also wrestling with someone? This made me wonder: Who or what is Yakkov wrestling with? I read that there may be several answers, including a robber, a demon, Esav's guardian angel or Yakkov's own conscience. I think Yakkov was wrestling with both Esav's guardian angel and with himself. This was a very scary time for Yakkov – – even more scary than standing up and giving a speech in front of over 100 people at your bar mitzvah. Yakkov had to wrestle with his own fear so he wouldn't let his fear prevail. This is a good lesson for all superheroes, as well as for the rest of you out there – – You can't let fear defeat you or keep you from moving forward.
Another part of growing up is understanding the different sides that make up who you are and figuring out which parts of your personality reflect the real you deep inside.
Evan: Sshh—not now Tommy. I’m giving my D’var Torah.
Tommy: So is this your Bar Mitzvah? I thought a bar mitzvah is where you eat gefiltah fish on crackers.
Evan: No, That comes later Tommy. I’m telling everyone about Yakov’s wrestling match with the angel.
Tommy: what does this have to do with superheroes? I thought your bar mitzvah was about superheroes?
Evan: Well, It was only after Yakkov wrestled with his own conscience and could really see himself that he was able to change and become a superhero. The angel that wrestled with him changed Yakkov's name to Israel which means “One that Wrestles with God.” Can you please wait quietly until I’m done. (Even the 7th grade class has been sitting quietly –and we all know how hard that can be)
So where was I…
After Yakkov’s battle with the angel, Yakkov goes forward to meet Esav. Yakkov is changed but we also see a side of Esav that seems to be changed. Instead of trying to kill his brother and get revenge Esav, kisses Yakkov and seems to want to reunite.
I think there are a few things going on here. Here’s my take: I think that Esav realized that if his guardian angel couldn't defeat Yakkov, then Esav himself wouldn't be able to beat Yakkov either. Also, even though most commentators view Esav as just a super villain who doesn't really change, I think that Esav saw how Yakkov changed, and therefore Esav was willing to change too. So I think Esav’s offer of friendship to Yakkov is genuine.
So, from what I can see, my Parsha teaches that in any relationship, you can't change the other person, you can only change yourself and hope that the other person will see that and want to change too.
One thing that bothered me about when the brothers met, is that even though they seem to make up, they never talked it out. Esav didn’t say, “why did you diss me when we were kids?” Yakkov didn’t say he was sorry. So--How many people here need to hash things out in order to resolve a fight? Let’s see a show of hands. Now, how many people would rather just move on and not hash things out?
OK, so the rest of you who didn’t vote don’t like to make up, is that it?
Well, I’m someone who prefers to hash things out but I think the parsha shows that even if you don’t talk everything out, you can still let go of things that upset you, and move on without holding a grudge.
So in the end, our superhero Yakkov prevails with just a little hip injury and a new name, Israel. And perhaps a sheepskin cape and cool logo, you never know.
But we do know he couldn’t have gotten there if he hadn’t struggled and wrestled with himself to figure out who he was going to be.
Evan: OK Tommy sit tight –I’m almost done.
Tommy: So when are we going to reenact the wrestling match?
Evan: No, Tommy, I told you we weren’t going to do that in synagogue.
Tommy: You’re just scared because I don’t have a hip socket for you to grab.
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