A little more time

“Heroism consists of holding on for one minute longer.” This Norwegian Proverb affirms the pivotal difference tenacity and perseverance can make.

In this week’s portion of Torah, Jacob holds on to the mysterious being with whom he has wrestled through the night. He refuses to release the angel until something positive comes out of his ordeal. Not a bad life-lesson for any of us. Don’t part company from a painful experience until you’ve extracted something helpful from it.

Yet the passage can also be understood as a plea for a little more patience. Leaping to conclusions has become normative. Good reflexes are important. They keep us safe when we cross the street. But impulsive, knee-jerk reactions aren’t always good for us. Sometimes, when we’re willing to dwell on a matter, to ask a follow-up question, we learn more about context, about intent, about alternative meanings. True, we only have limited time, but there are many alternatives to jet skiing or scuba diving.

Here’s an illustration of what can come from a deeper reading of our passage wherein Jacob is told he will be renamed Israel. The numbers 8 and 13 are biblically significant. 8 indicates covenant, so a Bris is on the 8th day. And 13 stands for Divine attributes like patience and being slow to anger. The angel reports Jacob’s forthcoming name-change following the 80th mention of Jacob’s name since the beginning of the Bible (Gen. 32:28-29). And his name is actually changed by God at the 130th mention of Jacob’s name (prefixes included) in the Torah. Jacob’s becoming Israel signals a covenant with a patiently compassionate God.

That which sometimes appears arbitrary can emerge as precise, and visa versa. The key point: it can be rewarding to refuse to release a text until we’ve extracted something more from it.

May we hold on a little longer. In so doing, may we find that we’re making surer choices and more informed commitments.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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