Wrestling identity

Wrestling identity

Of course, we can’t help: our earthly time is a night and day struggle for life, in many evident aspects; at times, things would be more wildly off-the-wall. Israeli society and Yiddishkaytיידישקייט – Jewishness get to the point that looks like they would be forced to  searching their reality, identity, actions.

This search may appear to be too hot, too crazy, too awesome, well, too much more than any real events or situations. Comedy and character playing are such in-born constituents of Jewish abilities to compose with hostile then friendly and anew savage environments that we may be at pains to really get to who we are indeed.

Some Jews would not ever suspect they may behave in a weird way, a bit borderline without getting beyond the rope. Over three years, the Franciscans have been celebrating the 800 years since Francisco d’Assisi has founded their religious order of “Fratres Minores – humblest brothers.”

In his famous biography of the saint man, who happened to firstly be a yuppy, then a hippy who pulled off his job and pedigree, Gilbert K.Chesterton said that Francis was “walking on a tightrope the other way, i.e. head down”. Or, let’s take Don Quixote de la Mancha attacking windmills at Noon… This week is Full Moon Kislev 5772. He is the foolishly stiffed model of the wacky guy. But quixotic does not really sound  neurotic in English. It interrogates, rather like a quiz that obliges to face real and substantial questions.

As long as the Jews can play games and swing between rich and poor, needy and schnorrers, schmooze about fate and money, jewelry, trading, career, show to be “klug un intelligent ober a biss’l paskudneקלוג און אינטעליגענט אבער א ביסל פאסקודנע = clever and well-educated but a bit obnoxious in their behaviors”, things are abnormal.

There are tons of people, nations that have the nerve to be arrogant. We have a lot of such people and arrogance seems to be a sort of local “brand”. One peculiar component of this “essence” is the pretence to be best, first, successful, prestigious, mighty (though ready to help at your early convenience), undauntedly powerful. It sounds like our chutzpahחוצפה, but the word brings forth another point of view: “how irrepressible (chatzifahחציפה) is the land of Israel that is still productive after all devastations” (Y. Talmud Taanit IV:69b).

This is the way we should consider “Vayishlachוישלח”, the reading portion of the week which includes the account of Jacob’s wrestling during the night “till dawn breaking, he got a new name, Israel”.

“Efshar la’azor? אפשר לעזור- may (I) help you?” is said all the time in this country. The intention is real ezrah-עזרה/assistance-oriented first. It is quite a Hebrew way to showing very polite and then dropping the others like old donkeys and become a nighmare of arrogance. It looks like a game, children playing in a kindergarten.

It can be rather mild, the way Jacob is pictured. There is more in Judaism. The Jews have indeed to face constant, steady, persistent combat. It does not deal with the basic fight we have to face because of long-long-long-term, age-long and stubborn rejection, hatred or misunderstanding.

This is normal. And it is normal because of what happened in this Yaakov’s wrestling over the night. It belongs to the standards of alterity and similarity between God and Israel.

We can be terrible at that and misuse or misunderstand that we are chosen to serve and not to be served, in order to bless and not to curse. For instance, some observers have noted with insights that after the Lebanese war, some North American and European Christians had offered (gave charities; trumahתרומה = offering) millions and millions of money to repair the damages in the North. They funded food for the needy.

It barely was mentioned as a great gesture. Do we expect to be recognized? True gratitude and acceptance of alterity are a must. If we do not accept the Christians or any other group, we are definitely not obliged to accept their assistance…!

But this is still too basic. These are still normal standards in the world where relations based on power.

The question with Yaakov deals with a man who always depended on his mom, Rebekkah, and her good old nanny, Devorah, only mentioned in the TanaKh, because she died and was buried at Beth-El; he has been fashioned by his wives, in particular his child-birthing beloved wife Rachel. Since time can’t avoid facing his brother Esau who had scorned him and whom he had cheated as well as their father Isaac, it is time for him to face his own personality and get the true blessing.

Talmud Berakhot 55b states that dreams do not reveal anything special about a person, except the “innermost thoughts of the heart”. This is the utmost specificity of Judaism to take dreams for granted realities and true positive events. Jews can be so anxious as to ask themselves or their mates if they are asleep or not, then why… not?

Dreams happen in envisioning sights that clearly open the way to who we are indeed. Theodore Herzl’s “I have a dream” is parallel to Martin Luther King’s message. Parallel because abnormal according to the basic rules governing societies. On the other hand, it is possible to make dreams come true because of faith. it allows knowing who we are, why we have a personal identity, what each individual may be entrusted to accomplish for the benefit of collectivities.

The text of the reading portion (Bereishit/Genesis 32:23-33) shows in very few words playing on roots and meanings, the essence of identity. This goes far beyond Jacob’s special call to be Israel. Abraham was the “ivriעברי – going across the two rivers”. Yaakov crossed the ford of Yabbokיבק:  note that Ya-Bo -k is the reversed order of the letters in Ya-Ko-v (heel, limp) and it is said: “VaYeAVeK ish imoויאבק איש עמו – and a man wrestled with him” (v. 25) as he was remained alone: real wrestling now deals, in loneliness – though not solitude – with his special oneness and identity.

The Jew is by nature and call a “monastic”; it makes no sense to compare with the different life-styles that the Christians and maybe the Essenes adopted and developed throughout the ages. “Monosμονος = one, single, outsingled” but it always implies that the “one alone” is not cast aside or on his/her own; on the contrary, ones are gathered and gathering into one Body (guf/גוף ), usually depicted as the vineyard (gefen-gofna/גפן-גופנא ). Thi” added to final s is the meaning of the final word of the “Hear Israel”: “G. is One/echad = אחד “. The interpretation of the last letter “ayin/ע ” added to final “dalet/ד ” make “adעד = eternal and/or witness (ed/ עד ) and “edahעדה = community”.

Like Abraham, Yaakov was born to choose new priorities and geographical orientations. He was “standing behind on his heels (EKevעקב)”; from now on, he faces humankind and himself in their being. The “unknown” fighter was both of divine and human nature. He called the place “Penielפניאל” because he fought timelessly overnight in a human and divine Panim el panimפנים אל פנים = face to face encounter. Was it Esau, Jacob’s own shadow? or both God and the brothers? “God created us in His image and likeness” (Genesis 1:27).

Moreover, it seems at this point that God concealed something definitely substantial with Jacob becoming Israel. Adam found his fulfillment in the removing of  “tzelaצלע – rib, side, shadow” (Genesis 2:18) because he was alone. Jacob was alone during the wrestling.

Adam woke up and found his wholeness in Eve/Chawahחוה, the woman who is indeed the crown of creation. The same happens during that combat in which Jacob urged the “ishאיש – man” to tell his name. In return, he is hurt at his hip and his “tzoleaצולע – limping, walking” is crooked to one side (“Are the paralyzed and crippled to punish him who holds?” Pessakti Rabbati 13). He is no more alone but “achieved, whole” = “shalemשלם, strangely also “sholemשולם = loyal (Genesis 33:18).

His new name is that of a “feminine” mildness given upon birth from Jewish women that “shall make the crooked straight (yasharישר) = Yisrael” (Isaiah 40:4). This combat ended at “alot hashacharעלות השחר = the breaking or ascending of dawn”. It is an identity rebirth: Jacob wrestled and removed the useless clue of “dirty dust = abakאבק” (cf. Yaakov, ekevעקב = heel, Yabbok) in order to be able to face his destiny.

He became Israel and birthed the Community envisioning what repeatedly happened at Beth-El as dawn broke, i.e. is “making a sort of aliyahעליה-ascent”. He has been injured but he relocated to achieving Israel’s true goal as a firstly multi-faceted tribe who has to share the blessings with all the nations.

The main problem is whether we accept or not this wrestling not to be a victory per se; this inner combat empowers us to struggle for life in whatever circumstances of our lives without ever stepping down because we face a specific reality aand witness to much bigger than ourselves.

As Jesus of Nazareth was dying, he told his disciple John to take Mary his mother to his home. When he rose from the dead, he met with Maria Magdalena. Jesus saw “the woman without faith and yet unbelievable” who will powerfully convince the scary disciples that the Master is alive!

Adam had welcomed Eve, mother of the living, after a sleep comparable to death and solitude. This lines out with Yaakov becoming Israel, the father of the twelve Tribes, one and unique Community, both injured and unwillingly reinforced.

Thus, Rachel died after having birthed Benyamin, the first “son of Abraham” to be born in the land of Canaan. What firstly appeared to look like a cheating story turned into a dream that come true at dawn breaking and continues to interrogate :”hagidah-na shmechaהגידה-נא שמך – tell me Your Name?” that can be viewed in the injured “gid hanasheגיד הנשה – sinew of the thigh”. The word “nashe/נשה is rooted in “woman, female, feminityנשות-נשי and to move as thighs allow the body to get up and moveנשה.

As Sarah for Abraham, Rachel for Yaakov, Mary Magdalene for Jesus, women (Aramaic “neshaנשא”) remove, discard wounds. They allow being released from debts and they save men, i.e. humankind (Talmud Berakhot 17b/Chullin 91a).

Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

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