Sedra – Vayishlach

Sedra – Vayishlach

With Rabbi Alex Chapper.

How do you deal with disappointment? Do you allow it to crush you and lose hope of ever being successful or do you bounce back and try even harder in the future? The question is a significant one, because how you answer it is probably a better indicator of your character than how you respond to success.

The famous nocturnal incident, in which Jacob struggles with an angel in the guise of a man, provides us with a profound insight into this question. The text is somewhat ambiguous and so it is not immediately obvious as to who emerges victorious from the struggle. It reads, ‘When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob’s hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him.’

Although the commentators clarify that it is Jacob who had the upper hand and it is the angel who was unsuccessful in his mission, it is Jacob who emerges with an obvious injury while the angel is allowed to escape unscathed. This is an unusual outcome when we are more familiar with battles that have as their outcome a clear winner and loser.

What is clear from this episode is that there is sometimes a fine line between success and failure and both leave their after affects; however, the distinguishing feature is how you respond. The angel seeks to escape while injuring his adversary, whereas Jacob refuses to allow the incident to pass without seeking a blessing from his counterpart.

It is with that response to their struggle that Jacob receives the blessing of a new name – one that signifies his ability to face challenges and emerge successfully. It is this attitude that can be employed in dealing with our own success and failure. Although it may not always be possible to see the latter as a blessing, it is healthy to see the disappointment as an opportunity to grow, to accept the knocks, however painful they may be, and to become stronger in the future.

As President Nixon said: “True greatness comes not when things go always good for you; but true greatness comes when you are really tested, when you have taken some knocks, faced some disappointments, when sadness comes. Because only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be atop the highest mountain.”

Rabbi Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi.

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