This last week was Parshat Vayishlach, and it talks about Yaakov and Esav’s reunion when Yaakov returns from his devious Uncle Levan, who had deceived him in much the same way he had deceived his father Yitzach. He has sent his family and herds across the Jabbok, and he remained alone, waiting for daylight when he would see the brother who had sworn to kill him. The one heading his way with 400 men.
Bereshit 32: 22-32
22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, 1 and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, 1 for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, 1 saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.
One of the Rabbi’s commentary I read this week talked about the difference in the style of Mozart and Beethoven. He felt that for Mozart, the music simply flowed from him, light and easy. For Beethoven, he struggled to get it just the way he wanted it, writing and re-writing it, the creativity for him was a struggle. He felt Yaakov, who later became Israel, had the same kind of struggles. In fact Rabbi Sacks points out in all of Tanakh/ First Testament, none of the people were perfect, they all had their struggles.
If you want to watch a little teaching on the Parsha, here is one from Rabbi Chaim.
Struggles was already on my mind this week, I’ve recently had the chance to see a independently produced movie. I think that’s what they are called. I don’t see many movies, cause there are not many I am willing to give money to see. The last one was a 1977 movie on Operation Thunderbolt.
This one was called “Big Sonia”. And it is about an amazing 91 year old lady from Poland who is a Holocaust survivor. Big Sonia stands a whopping 4’11” tall. The film talks very little about how she came to be in the concentration camps, she was in more than one, and she endured death marches. It does say the nazis used dogs to find her and her Mother hiding in the attic of their home, as they had found others. They were hidden under the floor. When the movie needs to show something from the Holocaust, it is mostly shown in crude, meaning not detailed, animation. The nazis and dogs finding them is one of those types of scene. Another is when they are separated after they’ve been at the death camp for a while. Her Mother had a red scarf, and in the graphic, I can’t really call it a cartoon, it shows her Mother handing it off to her. This is a clip of Sonia.
Sonia runs a tailor shop that she took over from her husband after he passed away. Her mission, I would say, is she with the help of her daughter visit school, prisons, and talk to groups about the Holocaust. About living with love and acceptance so that these things can never happen again. It has had a profound affect on students, and some of the prisoners were in the film crying and talking to Leah, one of the filmmakers about how hearing Sonia’s story affected them. It was disconcerting to me that some of these prisoners seemed unaware of the Holocaust, at all. But I know another Holocaust survivor, she was Austrian who had tried to tell her story to some people at a holiday get together. Some of them did not believe her. She told me she would never speak of it again. I understand, to have gone through that, then tell it, and not be believed? But to see this tiny little woman, who had survived more and harder things than the prisoners, or school children had and how she chose to respond to them? Amazing woman. I would also mention Sonia has a sister that did survive the war. She is currently living in Israel. She spent the war not in a concentration camp, but in the forest, with the Partisans, fighting. I don’t know how that happened, it doesn’t say in the film, but boy do I wish Leah would do that story! Sonia has faced many many struggles, her most recent one was when the shopping mall where the tailor shop was located served her an eviction notice. I will just say that there are Angels that walk among us today, and while we may not know the name of the one that wrestled with Yaakov, the one in the movie is Vernon and leave it at that. This movie is being seen all across the US, actually world wide. I’m free on the 16th, I think I’d like to see it again. That will necessitate me being in Jerusalem on the 16th. Hmm.
I was thinking about this column, and struggles. We all face them in our daily lives, from different directions. Some can be family, professional, monetary, personal, health, and just “stuff we have to do” be it cutting down trees, clearing fence row or making sure one kid gets to the doctor and another to piano lessons and you need to be at work on time, and pay for it all. But as I was thinking about struggles and how Yaakov faced his, and while it seems most of his life he faced a variety of struggles, he tried, he didn’t just give up. He may have been afraid and distressed, but he kept going forward and he struggled with the Angel and won. Sonia has certainly had her struggles, to survive and cope, she continues to try to use her experience to help others.
And then I had a conversation with a friend of the book of faces tonight. We’ll call him Chris. Chris is talking about his son that I’m going to call Stuart. Stuart is a Ordnance Disposal Tech in the military. Chris had said a little about some of the scares he has had due to Stuart’s occupation. We got started talking about this because of a particular song “More than a name on a wall” by the Statler Brothers.
Chris: I try to never miss an opportunity to tell him how proud I am of him. That song tears me up probably as much as it does you. But I know that if my son should go, he’ll be escorted to Valhalla by his fellows after accomplishing far more with his life than I ever have.
Me: WE each have a part to play in this drama called life Chris. HIS part is NOT your part. Your part is not mine. We must each fulfill our parts as best we can with who we are at this time, in this place.
And that’s when it gelled for me. I am so far from perfect, and some struggles will probably be lifelong, and some I may win, some I may lose. But the ones that G-d brings to me, those I must continue to try. We all have things that matter to us, to U.S. our freedom, our country, our way of life, and our families.
And each of us has a role we can play in that. Some who would never want to write on a Blog can pick up the pen and write a letter to the editor, they can talk to a co-worker who spouts Gabby Giffords latest uniformed, illogical or stupid idea. Some can take Grandchildren or nieces and nephews out to learn to shoot. Or, they can set their nephew up with lessons to learn to shoot from a good instructor. So I’ve heard. You can support Second Amendment groups, join local grassroots Second Amendment groups, go to rallies. You can know our country’s history, warts and all, and when people try to take it from us by lying, know they are lying and speak out, write a letter, make sure what your child or grandchild is learning in school isn’t the Common Core Crap, and if it is either talk to the school or at least talk to your child and make sure they know the truth. Old school books might make dandy gifts. To lose who were are and where we came from is something that is hard to reclaim. Someone has to keep the light burning.
There is a teaching in the end of the video Parsha about Yaakov going back for some small vessels. What? He hadn’t had enough struggle already? He goes back for some Tupperware? There is a bit more to it than this, but my point is, in that in the Tupperware, was oil.
Sonia’s struggles bring forth understanding and knowledge, Yaakov’s struggle brought forth the nation of Israel, and a small container of oil.
Last week was November 29th, there was an epic struggle that took place on November 29th, 1947 These are in English.
Behind the scenes stories
And today, today. President Trump announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem is the Capitol of Israel, and the United States will be moving their Embassy to Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act was written in 1995, at last, finally. I admit, watching those old film clips today, and then President Trump is a very emotional experience.
And so, what will our struggles bring forth?