No Hollywood in Jacob’s journey – 3 shorts on Parashat Vayishlach

It’s a glorious sunny day in NYC, bright and beautiful. And 30 degrees. Fahrenheit. Need to layered up some, and remember that things are not always as they seem.

In the Torah portion of Vayishlach, Jacob is traveling back after 20 year with Lavan in “chutz la’aretz” (outside of Israel) to the Land of Israel. He has accumulated great wealth, kids, herds, stuff; It’s hard to leave, hard to travel and hard to settle. Along the way, Rachel dies; Dina is raped; Yitzchak dies; Esau, with whom he manages to make some peace, moves away; An angel struggles with him on route and he gains his name, Yisrael, “for you have become the commanding power before G-d and men (people), since you have prevailed” (Genesis 32:29).
The sun, which set on his way out of the Land, as he headed to a form of darkness, now shines on Jacob, but he is limping (32:32). I simultaneously like it and hate it: I want a Hollywood ending, with Jacob marching out of the smoke, triumphant, unharmed, no ifs and buts, with everybody smiling, everybody living “happily ever after”, the captions rolling on the screen as they fade into the horizon. But the Torah doesn’t do that. It doesn’t let me escape the deep, intrinsic complexity of life: ‘we’ll be ok’’ it says, ‘we’ll aim high, and it will be great, but don’t expect it to be totally smooth’. I sigh with great discomfort and relief.

Dina is Jacob and Leah’s daughter, and 13th child. Commentaries suggest that she’s expected to be the mother of the 13th tribe, and that Jacob hoped to marry her off to a prince of the land, to establish his presence in the region. Is that why she “went out”, trusting, knowing she’s following her father’s plan? The rabbis tell us that Dina became pregnant and that her daughter, who was sent to be a servant at the home of the Egyptian priest, Potifera, is Osnat, the one who marries Joseph and bears him Menashe and Ephrayim from whom a messiah might be born. Nevertheless, this time, the “happy ending” doesn’t make it good. It’s an awful story we used to like to skip, that now regains attention, highlighting issues of abuse, power, and the unique dangers women face. And yet, it’s no more a “women’s issue” than if there are abused anyone (children, immigrants, workers). In a situation where abuse regains, everyone gets hurt, not just the person who suffers the blows, be those physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, sexual, existential of any kind. Maybe it’s an especially good Shabbat to pause, somewhere alone one of the many “mi sheberach’s” (prayers for healing) and add, whether in prescribed words, heartfelt or in silence, a space that says, let’s raise our awareness, let’s work towards enough.

Blast from the Past: Just in time for Daf Yomi’s sacrifices and offerings matters, an amazing gift from the past showed up this week, when archeologist found a small weight from the time of the 1st Temple, south of the Kotel in the City of David, in Jerusalem. The weight has backwards ancient Hebrew letters so it can be used as a stamp. The letters are B.K. A’ – ב.ק.ע. The “beka’” was equivalent to half a shekel, a donation each person over 20 years old had to bring. This corresponds to the Exodus 38:26:

בֶּ֚קַע לַגֻּלְגֹּ֔לֶת מַחֲצִ֥ית הַשֶּׁ֖קֶל בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ לְכֹ֨ל הָעֹבֵ֜ר עַל־הַפְּקֻדִ֗ים מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה לְשֵׁשׁ־מֵא֥וֹת אֶ֙לֶף֙ וּשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת אֲלָפִ֔ים וַחֲמֵ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת וַחֲמִשִּֽׁים׃

a beka’ – half-shekel a head, half a shekel by the sanctuary weight, for each one who was entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, 603,550 men.

If you’re in Israel this Hanukkah, the finding will be presented in the National Gardens of Ein Tzurim.

Shabbat Shalom!

By Gustave Dore, 1832-1883

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