Dear reader,

A man I know was raised religious but chose to leave this path. Before Yom Kippur, he invited his friends to “a pig-eating fest” at his home, on this holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

I don’t judge him. I believe that the many vicissitudes of his life prevented him from celebrating this holy day in the traditional manner. Whether through anger, mockery or apathy, right now this is how he expresses his inner yearnings as his tortured soul travels its unique journey.

Years ago, I attended a lecture about the Holocaust. The rabbi gave a clear theological exposition reconciling G‑d’s apparent abandonment of His people. And then, a Holocaust survivor in the audience rose and expressed how what he witnessed made him lose faith.

What ensued was an exchange between the lecturer and the survivor, the lecturer’s brilliant responses and then the survivor’s heart-wrenching emotional outbursts.

Though objectively the lecturer “won” the “debate,” the voice of the survivor continues to haunt me. And yet, the survivor attended this lecture because he wanted to—and, I believe, did—find the solace for which he was so desperately searching.

These were my thoughts as I read the dramatic, poignant passages in this week’s Torah portion.

Jacob crosses his family and possessions over the Jabbok River, while he remains behind and encounters the angel of Esau. Jacob wrestles with him until daybreak, and suffers a dislocated hip, but finally emerges victorious. The angel then bestows upon him the name Israel, which means “he who struggles with and prevails over (an angel of) G‑d.”

Jacob’s solitary figure fighting a celestial being during the dark hours of the night symbolizes something profound for his descendants.

Nachmanides explains that the struggle represents our suffering during galut, exile, under Esau, the nations of the world. Jacob’s dislocated hip embodies the pain inflicted on us in an effort to eradicate our faith. But Israel nevertheless ultimately emerges whole.

I have been fortunate to lecture to Jewish audiences throughout the world. I have lectured in the most Jewishly forlorn cities, where Judaism appears to be an unknown relic of the past. And yet, what always astounds me is how even in such venues—and perhaps specifically there—the longing of the Jewish soul is evident, as the participants thirstily drink in their faith and heritage.

Our galut has been a long, dark night. There have been too many ravages of exile, holocausts, pogroms, and expulsions—to most recently, butchering fathers wrapped in prayer shawls while praying in synagogue just because they are Jews. Yet despite the disillusionment, the apathy, the unfairness, the suffering, and the many forces that question our faith and pull us away from our G‑d, Jacob has fought intrepidly to hold on.

And though Israel suffers some temporary dislocations and setbacks, he emerges, whole in body and whole in spirit. G‑d finally attests, “I have made you struggle with Me—and what a struggle it has been!—but you have prevailed.”

May we finally witness that time.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW