I am Jacob

וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר. Genesis 32:25 yet again reminds us of our eternal struggle with whatever our second nature represents. We try and sometimes fail to combat our fears and anxieties, our uncertainties and self-imposed limitations, our desires and wants. At the end of the day, we, like Jacob. are left alone, sending forward our worldly possessions and our loved ones, remaining face-to-face with our greatest enemy, our mirror image, ourselves.

The rabbis have tried to combat their fears, penning an endless stream of commentaries quoting the elegant explanation in Bereshit Rabbah. The midrashic interpretation insists that Jacob was not left alone but rather stayed on the other side of the stream to look for כדו a small jug, used to give water to the kids. Perhaps unknowingly, this interpretation only adds to the poignancy of the story. How many times have we preoccupied ourselves with insignificant mundane tasks because we were too afraid to tackle something big? How many times have we made to-do lists instead of doing things? How many times have we assured ourselves that every little matter?

Jacob seems to be the same but whether he is “miserly alone”, as it is said in Orchot Tzadikkim, or whether he convinces himself that he is here just to search for a jar is really of no importance. He still needs to face his fears, just like all of us do.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.