Praying for Peace, Even as We Struggle


 For anyone who has been following the news coming out of Israel, this has been a long and scary week.  The air in Israel is thick with uncertainty and unpredictability and in the midst of rocket attacks throughout southern Israel, reaching as far north as Tel Aviv and, today, even into Jerusalem.  It leaves us, as Jews, struggling to find words and make sense of it all.  Struggling to figure out how to appropriately respond.

 In our Torah portion this week, we read of a different conflict – the bitter sibling rivalry between Isaac and Rebecca’s two sons, Jacob and Esau.  Esau, their father’s favorite, and Jacob, their mother’s favorite.  They struggled bitterly with each other their entire lives – as twins, we are told that they wrestled with each other even in the womb.  Jacob gets his name because he holds on to Esau’s heel, the ekev, as Esau is born first. These two men, twins, couldn’t be more different from each other.  Esau is a red-haired, burly hunter and Jacob is a thoughtful, sometimes conniving mama’s boy.  As the boys grow older, and their father becomes sick and lays on his death bed, Jacob, with the help of his mother, deceives both his brother and their father, stealing the blessing intended for Esau (along with his inheritance).  And after, with a guilty conscience, he flees from his brother.

 The Torah, our most sacred text, tells us that it is okay to struggle.  Jacob, in all of his complexity, who in this week’s parashah cheats his brother out of his birthright, in a profound moment of struggle, takes on a new name in next week’s parashah.  After wrestling all night with an angel, or some rabbis suggest, himself, he is given the name Yisrael, Israel– he who wrestles with God.  And this is one of the names given to us as a people and given to our land – we are a nation and a land of God-wrestlers.  It has never been simple or easy, it has always been a struggle.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, rabbi of Ikar in Los Angeles offers these words:

most critically at this hour, I believe that there is a real and profound need for all of us to witness with empathy and grace.  Take a breath.  We are deeply entrenched in our narratives of good and evil, victim and perpetrator – and we are scared.  Over one million Israelis will sleep in bomb shelters tonight and rockets have reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. So it’s tempting to dig in our heels, to diminish the loss on the other side of the border, even to gloat.  This is not the Jewish way.  However you feel about the wisdom and timing of Israel’s response to the Hamas threat, the people of Israel need our strong support and solidarity.  At the same time, supporting Israel’s right to protect and defend itself does not diminish the reality that the Palestinian people are also children of God, whose suffering is real and undeniable.

Later in the Torah, we see that peace and reconciliation are possible.  After Jacob’s name is changed to Yisrael, once he acknowledges his struggles, he is reunited with his brother Esau and they make peace with each other, after a lifetime of living in tension.

Let us pray that this conflict comes to an end quickly, and that we soon see a return to negotiations and a real, viable and sustainable peace.

(Written by Rabbi Heath Watenmaker, Reform Outreach Initiative Rabbi Rutgers Hillel)