Ill-will and Good-will

Distrust has hit a new low. Ill-will and manipulation have peaked. What seems regrettably current was also once quite vivid in the biblical life of Jacob.

How did he cope? After all, he was surrounded by untrusting actors. His father-in-law Laban secretly switched Rachel for Leah and then manipulated Jacob’s obligations. Even a beloved Rachel deceives Jacob when she chooses not to tell him that she has stolen Laban’s idols. 

This week’s portion of Torah which began with Jacob dreaming of angels commuting between heaven and earth, has given way to his dreams of monetizing sheep. Jacob’s world has been reduced. It’s become petty and small. His soaring dreams have soured. 

It’s time for Jacob to return home. One day, an angel appeared when he was busy tending flocks. “I have noted all that Laban has been doing to you…Now, arise and leave this land and return to your native land” (Gen. 31:13).

So how do we head home? How do we cope when clotting falsehoods about our People are poured out like kerosine, saturating the soil with threats of violence? By, at once, being watchful yet not allowing our vision to get blurred. 

Memoirist Tara Westover has wisely said about those who do you harm: “The only thing you get to decide is where to put those people in your life.” Not front and center. They don’t deserve the stronghold of your mind. And yet you’d dare not neglect them. Be watchful without letting them weigh you down. What’s more, you can also defy them. 

Think highly of people. Yes, some will let you down. But don’t let those of ill-will degrade your beliefs. They’re the ones who least deserve such influence. Rather keep a corner of your faith in a higher place of your mind. Most of us are worthy of nothing less. 

At worst, you’ll be wrong. At best, you’ll help others rise. Most likely, you’ll rally some trust and sunnier minds. Meet ill-will with good-will, and may we, like Jacob, return home to dream grander dreams. 

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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