What Our Stories Tell Us

I was participating in a Rockland Business Association zoom call earlier this week, discussing ways to convey a business’s or organization’s story to the consumers or supporters they encounter, on this call specifically discussing podcasts. Stay tuned, we’re working on it.

One key takeaway from that call was the importance of stories and the many ways in which people can draw conclusions that are personally relevant. We, the Jewish people, are a people of stories. Lots of them.

Many of us are familiar with the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel as he returns to the land of Israel from his exile in the house of Laban. In the story, Jacob is on his way to an encounter with his dangerous brother, Eisav. He sends his flocks, his men, his family ahead and he acts as a rearguard, crossing the river alone, heading west.

At this point he is set upon by a stranger of immense power, with whom he contends. Eventually, as morning dawns, the stranger, who is now revealed to be an angel of the Almighty, asks to be released from Jacob’s unrelenting grasp. In return for this Jacob demands a blessing, and it is given. The angel renames him “Yisrael” - He who struggles, or contends, with the Almighty.

There are so many lessons for us to draw from this passage in our oldest and holiest texts. I’ll share a few quick points that could be most relevant today.

  • We are always returning, like Jacob, to our ancestral homeland. Our ties are unbreakable.
  • Like Jacob, our story demands that we always be on guard, and prepared to confront anything or anyone.
  • We always must protect our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, putting ourselves between them and danger.
  • It is at inflection points, such as crossing a river into our homeland, that we are vulnerable, and we must be prepared to resist.
  • Our struggles may be with a stranger, or they may be within ourselves, our nation, or our systems of belief or practice. Either way, the innate stubbornness of the Jewish people that manifests after our Exodus from Egypt demands that we work through our challenges.
  • We are tenacious. We do not give up. We do not give in. We demand - even from the Almighty - that we end up with a blessing, a positive outcome from even the most dangerous situation.
  • We always pay attention to what’s on the other side of the river - home, family, unity, security and peace.

Let’s continue to tell and listen to stories that carry us from Jacob’s encounter more than 3500 years ago towards a bright and peaceful future, if only we are prepared to struggle for it.