Thursday, January 14, 2010

VAYISHLACH; THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

A unifying theme to this week's parasha is the seemingly paradoxical idea of the acquisition of inner strength through the display of outward vulnerability. Jacob faces his fear of encountering his brother Esau, and instead of unifying his camp which would make himself stronger and thus more able physically to defend himself, counterintuitively opts to divide his camp segmentally to face him. This display of vulnerability won over his brother's heart.

Some take risks for love; others for safety. At last he made a peace with his brother and could now move on with his life. He could never realize his life's mission as long he was dominated by his fear of Esau. He was so sure of his parents' unconditional love for him that he was willing to risk vulnerability in the pursuit of his father's blessing.

His brother's love for him was not guaranteed, however. Deena perhaps emulated her father Yakov's sense of risk for venturing out from the safety of the family compound to visit the local girls. Yakov perhaps needed to grow spiritually by venturing out in order to compensate for his youthful predilection for dwelling in tents. His personal challenge was to leave the comforts of home. As a bearer of the Judaic vision, he could only learn to do so by venturing out from the protective confines and relative safety of the home (yoshev ohalim).

But his challenge was not necessarily her challenge. Each person needs to reflect on the personal growth challenges which he alone needs to face. Yakov won Divine blessing for choosing to go forward to meet his brother rather than to hide and live in fear. Facing his fears actually made him stronger. That being said, however, she had every right to live her "normal" life and visit in town. She wasn't looking for trouble. She wanted to make friends.

Let us not blame the victim for the crime. Shechem was brutal. Three verbs are used in the Torah to describe his actions. He seduced/took her (vayikach), he lay with her (vayishkav), and then he raped her (vayaneha). Only later did he "love" her. His brutality necessitated a strong response.

But on account of the love he felt for her as a result of the peace council whereby they agreed to be circumcised an agreement was made. All the males circumcised themselves and made themselves vulnerable. Jacob must have respected their acceptance of vulnerability as a result of his past experience. It made him open to the possibility of rapprochement.

Where Esau's righteous anger could be abated by a display of vulnerability on Jacob's part, so too could Jacob's own righteous anger be abated by vulnerability on Shechem's part. Now if we examine and contrast Chamor and Shechem's words with respect to Israel and his family, and their words which they used with respect to their own people we see an eery foreshadowing of today's conflict.

To Israel they say (Gen 34:10):

"You will be able to live with us, and the land will be open before you. Settle down, do business here, and the land will become YOUR PROPERTY."

But to their own people they say (Gen 34:23):

"Won't their livestock, their possessions, and all their animals eventually BE OURS?"

Whereas Shimon and Levi saw through the ruse and disallowed their own potential vulnerability which would lead to their demise, their father perhaps was unduly influenced by the need to validate his own past experiences which gave form and meaning to his life. Jacob, who in his youth found it all so easy to trick others (hence his name), now found his own life an endless sequence of others, from Laban to Shechem to his sons' future claiming of Joseph's death, now tricking him.

So we can learn in our parsha that vulnerability plays out in two possible ways- reconciliation or ruse. They seem to cancel each other out. But the parsha also suggests a third way. At Beit El, the place of his initial Divine/angelic dream encounter, G*d swore to him (Gen 28:15):

"no matter where you go I shall protect you- ushmarticha bechawl asher telech").

When Jacob is now in great fear of Canaanite retribution for the slaughter in Shechem, G*d tells them to exchange a false protection for a True protection. They must make themselves seemingly MORE vulnerable by discarding and burying all the idolatrous artifacts - elohei hanechar- even the rings in their ears (25:4), which were in their midst.

Just as the sukkah is a reminder that becoming vulnerable and trusting in G*d is our truest, most reliable protection, so is our parsha this week "pre"iterating that notion, albeit in a proto-Sinaitic context. While the Torah wisely mandates the apparatus of police and a court system, it also recognizes and endlessly repeats the message that true security rests in Hashem alone. We dare not shut off the possibility for love in our lives by encasing ourselves in psychic armor.

Vulnerability leads to possible hurt, but also to possible love. And the truest love and security of all is Divine love. As we begin on the path to follow and observe both the letter and the spirit of G*d's Torah, we make ourselves vulnerable to the possibility of ridicule or rejection by others who claim to know what's best for us. But other people come and go. To follow the easier path of social comfort may be easier but not necessarily the more fulfilling one. G*d's path may be less comfortable physically, but it behooves us to recognize that the Torah of Hashem is eternal and its truth endures forever.

Shabbat Shalom

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!