With the celebration of Thanksgiving fresh in ourminds, the Torah reading this week reaches the climax of the Story of Jacob. I see a connection. In my mind these two seemingly different topics dovetail beautifully.
Life can often be very difficult. In 1936, at the height of the Great Depression, Governor Wilbur Cross of Connecticut appealed to the indomitable human spirit in his Thanksgiving proclamation: “It has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator… for the blessing that have been our common lot … for honor held above price; for steadfast courage and zeal in the long search after truth; for liberty and for justice… that we may humbly take heart of these blessings as we gather once again with solemn and festive rites to keep our harvest Home.”
With these mighty words Governor Cross looked beyond the ravages of the Great Depression that affected every citizen and inspired people to seek and find the blessings in their lives. It was the same quality exhibited by our patriarch Jacob who also overcame trial and tribulation to seek and find a blessing from God.
But, you might ask, “A blessing! What right and what hope should Jacob have had to seek a blessing from God?” Had he not taken advantage of his older brother Esau to extort the lion’s share of the family inheritance from him? Had he not stood before his blind father swearing he was Esau in order to steal his father’s blessing?
People fairly ask: “Why does an unsavory character like Jacob become Israel, the namesake of the Jewish people? Why do you take your name from a trickster and a thief?”
It is a good question, and it has good answers.
First of all, Jacob paid and paid for his evil deeds. We would not be wrong if we counted the years after he left home as twenty years of hard time in the Laban Penitentiary in Haran. Laban tricked him time and again, and “often,” Jacob exclaimed, “scorching heat ravaged me by day and frost by night. Sleep fled from my eyes.”
Second, he honestly and eagerly sought Esau’s forgiveness, and he did not merely attempt to placate his brother with empty words. The size of the gift Jacob insisted Esau accept-and to his credit Esau was reluctant to do so — more than compensated his brother for the loss of the birthright inheritance.
And last and most important, Jacob is our role model and our namesake because despite every reason for doing so, he refused to give up hope.
He stumbled and fell, as we all do. He paid for his misdeeds many times over. And when it seemed that all was lost, he wrestled with everything he had been and everything that he had done. He proclaimed to the Eternal One in the midst of his struggle, “I will not let You go until You bless me.” (Genesis 32:27)
Though the encounter left him wounded, he wrenched genuine blessing from the depths of his anguish and found the ability to face the future with courage and hope. In that, I submit, he is a wonderful role model for all of us!