THE MOST DRAMATIC SCENE OF ALL
What scene in the bible best captures the quintessential nature of the Jew?
What about Moses as he leads the Jewish people out of Egypt?
Or perhaps it is of Abraham imploring G-d to save the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah?
Or maybe it is of the Jewish people as they are gathered together around Mount Sinai experiencing revelation.
A scene that has always fascinated me from the time I can remember and continues to do so, is an episode in this week's Torah portion where Jacob wrestles with the angel of Esau. It is this most powerful scene that has captured the imagination of some of the greatest artists and poets in history.
Let me try and explain why.
First the setting: Jacob is alone and vulnerable. He hasn't had an easy life. He is essentially “an honest person”. However his character is profoundly misunderstood, both by his contemporaries and by scholars until this very day. He falls out with his brother Esau and as a result is forced to leave his home and travel to a land that is both foreign and hostile and ends up in a business partnership with a cunning and deceitful individual. It is only after twenty years of a most gruelling experience that he is finally on his way back home. However he knows that before he is able to do this he must confront his brother Esau. It is just before this physical encounter with his brother that strangely and unexpectedly Jacob finds himself “alone”.
It is at this moment that time seems to stop. Suddenly out of the dark a “man” appears and begins to wrestle with Jacob “until the break of dawn”.
Who is this “man” and what does he want?
The mystics explain that he is in fact the angel of Esau, whose raison d’être is to overwhelm Jacob and wrestle him to the ground. However although Esau is “a man of the field” he cannot defeat his brother. As the sun rises, although he is slightly injured, Jacob is left standing.
It is that fateful night that Jacob, who earns the name “Israel”, forges a place in history for himself and all the Jewish people. For it is this night of courage and tenacity, fuelled by a most profound conviction, that defines the quintessential Jew.
But the struggle doesn’t end there. It continues until this very day. For this indeed is the struggle between the forces of light and darkness, between good and evil.
It is a fight for which we his descendants must be forever vigilant. A struggle for which we must constantly retain our conviction and courage.
A fight for which we must never apologise. For this is the battle which will eventually bring peace to the entire world.
We the descendents of Israel must continue this legacy until that first light of dawn which we hope we will experience shortly.