Why is a deceiving, thieving and manipulative trickster like Jacob worthy to be an ancestor of the Jewish people? I cringe every time I read about Jacob. If he wasn’t also an honored prophet according to Islam and part of the Christian tradition, I could envision him being used as a centerpiece of anti-Israel propaganda. “It is in the Jewish DNA….”
As the midrash tells us, the Torah is for real people with real people’s problems. Perfect cardboard heroes are not very helpful role models for those of us who are flesh and blood. All of our patriarchs and matriarchs struggle with their demons and deficiencies. The key is word is “struggle.” After Jacob wrestles with the unknown being that I have suggested in the past was the parts of himself that it was easier to project onto Esau, that being blesses him by saying that he has wrestled and overcome. The Jacob we meet this week is very different than the Jacob we will read about a few portions on. This is what makes him worthy of being an ancestor, and a role model.
Just as two weeks ago the Israelis were speaking about the Israeli leader who changed, and paid for changing with his life, this week we have been talking about an Egyptian leader who changed, and paid with his life. Forty years ago on November 19th, 1977, Anwar Sadat made his history changing visit. Needless to say, Menachem Begin and the Israeli people had to change as well. Opinion polls a week before the surprise visit showed that Israelis were dead set against what they were overwhelmingly in favor of after seeing the man who had waged war against them four years earlier addressing them from the Knesset in Jerusalem. I had always assumed that the visit had been carefully prepared behind the scenes. There were contacts. However, commentators this week have suggested that ultimately Sadat made a quick decision that took all of his closest advisors off guard. Some Israeli security officials were convinced that it was all a trick. When the door of Sadat’s plane opened there would be a commando unit that would open fire on the gathered Israeli leadership….
Do we who are named “Yisrael,” after our ancestor Jacob, the one who received that name because he struggled with God and humans, and himself, and prevailed, still have it in our DNA to struggle and change? When I read the polls showing that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians want to achieve peace, but don’t believe that the “other side” wants peace, I ask myself who today is prepared to take a Sadat like action? Who will risk breaking through the doubt and cynicism that leaves people telling themselves that they must accept that peace is not achievable, and perhaps that they never wanted it?
Jacob is a worthy ancestor of the Jewish people. Are we worthy of being called Yisrael?