Yechiel Shaffer
The Rabbi of Pikesville Jewish Congregation in MD

What Vayishlach Teaches Us about Building a Community

On the evening before his confrontation with Eisav, Yaakov takes his family over the Jabbok River, and returns to the other side of the river bank, alone, to collect his final possessions. The Torah tells us that it is there he is confronted by a stranger and spends the evening wrestling this unidentified person. Finally, when the sun rises, the fight is over, and Yaakov, though injured, wins this battle. We all know how stressful moving can be in general but to have to fight to protect your stuff feels like a lot…

The Torah tells us that for the rest of history the descendants of Yaakov will refrain from eating the sciatic nerve to commemorate this battle. Yaakov is permanently injured in the sciatic nerve, and so we refrain from eating filet mignon.

There are so many significant events in Sefer Bereshit, why is it that this is the one we commemorate, and why through refraining from eating a specific cut of meat?

The context of Yaakov’s injury is important. Why was he injured? Perhaps we can suggest it is because he had to battle this man alone. Had his children been with him, had he been accompanied by let’s say Shimon & Levi, who were capable warriors, perhaps Yaakov would never have been injured. Therefore it makes sense that Yaakov’s descendants should commemorate the time they left someone alone and they were thus injured because of the experience.

The innocent act of letting their dad go get the last items caused great damage. This neglect is commemorated throughout history by the restraint shown by the descendants of Yaakov.

Our lives have, these past months, required tremendous restraint, including refraining from social connections. And while the times require isolation and distance, the impact of leaving each other alone will be significant. We, as a community, will work hard in the days ahead to commemorate these days past, and to reflect on this experience, and we will seek ways to deepen our connections with each other so no one is left behind to confront their demons alone.

About the Author
Formerly the Assistant Rabbi of Cong. Ohab Zedek in NYC, and The Hampton Synagogue, Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer is the Rabbi of the growing, young community, Pikesville Jewish Congregation, in Pikesville, MD.
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