In Every Struggle There Is A Silver Lining, There Is Something Positive [Parshat Vayishlach By Rabbi Zalman Lent]

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“I will not release you until you give me a blessing” — Gen 32:27

 Rabbi Yonoson Eibeshutz, born in Poland in 1690, was a Talmudic genius, a respected and revered scholar, teacher and preacher. Even as a very young child it was evident that he was incredibly bright, with many anecdotes being told about him. One such story is about him walking home as a young child when he was stopped by a local thug who slapped him hard in the face. Quick as a flash, young Yonoson pulled out a few coins from his pocket and gave them to the thug with a hearty “Thank you.” To the obvious puzzlement of the assailant he explained, “Today is a Jewish festival when we must afflict ourselves, and reward anyone who punishes us.

The thug was delighted and slapped him again, and once again received some coins. Then the little boy stopped him; “Hold on” he said, “I have no more coins … but maybe try that guy over there,” and he pointed to a hefty ox of a man (the local shochet) who was walking past, “he has lots of coins.”  You can imagine for yourselves what happened next!

In today’s parsha we read about Yaakov (Jacob) being attacked by Eisav’s guardian angel. Yaakov is preparing for a violent confrontation with his brother Eisav (Esau), and ferries all his family over the river, giving them a chance to escape if all goes wrong. He returns alone to fetch the last small items and is attacked there by the angel. Through the night they wrestle, unable to overpower one another, until dawn approaches and the angel manages to dislocate Yaakov’s hip.

Then (if this is not a strange enough story) a stranger thing happens: The angel asks Yaakov to release him, and Yaakov replies with the following words: “I will not release you until you give me a blessing.

Something does not add up here; Yaakov has been waylaid, attacked and injured, yet he asks his assailant for a blessing! And indeed he does receive a blessing — the angel tells him that his name will be changed from Yaakov to Yisrael (Israel). [This name change had a deep meaning, as the name Yaakov is related to the word for deception and the name Yisrael is from the word meaning honest (Yashar). This was confirming to Yaakov that the blessings which he had acquired with deception (Yaakov) were rightfully his (Yisrael).]

Why did Yaakov ask for a blessing from his attacker?

Yaakov understood the dynamics of  Creation. He understood that G-d is good. He understood that bad things happen to good people as part of a Divine plan, specifically because there is a Divine order not because of a lack of order. He understood that in every struggle there is a silver lining, there is something positive, something learned or gained. It was this deep understanding that led him to ask the angel for a blessing …, he wanted to take something tangible and positive from a very negative experience.

Derek Redmond was a sprinter in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He had won a gold medal in the relay the year before in Tokyo, but wanted a personal achievement this year. He was in the best shape of his career, and he was determined to win the 400 meter semi-final, but it was not to be. With 250 meters still to go, his hamstring gave out. He could no longer run, and even walking was incredibly painful, but he pushed on, hobbling his way to the end line. The pain was clouding his mind, but he knew he had to finish the race.

With 100 meters to go he felt a hand on his shoulder … his father’s. They finished the last hundred meters together, a tearful Derek with his father by his side. Despite losing the race, as Redmond stepped across the finish line, 70,000 fans stood and applauded. He lost the medal, but he won a standing ovation and a place in Olympic history. Had he won, his name would probably have faded away into history, but for many Derek Redmond is a name they will never forget. His strength in the faith of adversity made him an inspiration to so many people.

Maybe the “blessing” that he received from his struggle was that from an athlete, he became a hero.

We don’t all suffer hamstring injuries, but we all go through difficult times in life at one stage or another. No one is immune from suffering, and there are two ways to approach these bumps in the road: We can let them get us down, and destroy our spirit, or like Yaakov we can grit our teeth, push on through, and then we can “ask them for a blessing” and gain something from the experience. It may be difficult to see the positive and sometimes it may take a long time to find it, but if we look, we can usually find that every tsuris has a silver lining.

In our daily prayers we have many blessings where we thank G-d for what He has given us, but what we learn from this parsha is that we must thank G-d in the bad times too. Even when we have lost a loved one we say Baruch Dayan HaEmet – Blessed be the True Judge. This is because we realize that nothing happens by chance, and that behind the scenes G-d only wants good, even though often we cannot understand how He goes about it.

When we are able to praise G-d for the bad things as well as for the good ones and when we realize that every cloud really does have a silver lining, then we can say “I will not release you until you give me a blessing” — we can take something positive from every situation. Let us pray that we merit to a time when we see only clear and obvious good, for us and for all mankind. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.




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