Rabbi Hannah’s Weekly Reflection – Blessed by the Injuring Angel

December 4, 2020

Blessed by the Injuring Angel

This week’s parasha offers us several more glimpses of Jacob’s development. He has grown from the run-away brother who robbed his twin to the dreamer of descending and ascending angels. Angels are associated with the world of Yetzirah, the world of emotional attunement, and, as such, are an expression of divinity coming from within. The dream is a dream of his own interiority.

Jacob has come to understand that he, himself, is capable of both descent and ascent, of falling and rising. Now, in Parshat Vayishlach, he doesn’t just envision his angels, he wrestles one that both injures and blesses him. Indeed, Jacob insists on being blessed by the very force that has maimed him. And I cannot help but wonder how we might be blessed by the very hardship that has, presently, descended upon our lives. Surely, we’ve come to enumerate blessings of raised awareness and enhanced sensitivity to others derived from the horror of Covid. Surely, we have noticed the blessing of life review, and elevation of what really matters to us, at our cores. This, too, is a blessing arising from the pause imposed by the pandemic. On the most visceral plane, the illness and death all around us teaches what we’ve taken for granted, that just to be is a blessing.

Jacob is wounded in the wrestling and we, too, are wounded. He limps for the rest of his life and maybe we will too. Still, I see Jacob’s resilience. I see Jacob’s enacted desire to transform tragedy into strength, a strength that is grounded in love.

Later, Jacob’s beloved Rachel will die in childbirth. Just before dying, she names her baby Benoni – the son of my impoverishment, of my loss. But Jacob acts to transform the name, healing the heartbreaking conflation of Rachel’s death and the birth of this child. He turns Rachel’s name for the baby in his poetic mind, uplifting oni’s alternate meaning – strength. And he calls his son, not “son of my loss” but “son of my strength” – Benyamin. Benyamin: son of my right hand, of my strong side, of prevailing. With this, Jacob intentionally pushes through loss, folding loss into the over-arching blessing of hope that this (and every) child represents.

May we lean into this touchstone of resilience. We wrestle and we get hurt; some injuries leave us limping for the rest of our lives. May we be blessed to rise after falling. May we be blessed to discern and embrace the wisdom and the strength that might be derived even from adversity.

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