Lilluy Nishmat Yechiel Ezra ben Ari Yonah z”l (Ezra Schwartz hy”d)
It’s been a rough two weeks. First the horrific Paris Attacks. Then the terrorist attacks that claimed too many lives in Israel on Thursday, Shabbat and Sunday. The world can be a pretty dark place. Is there any room to keep believing that someday, things will get better?
On Saturday night, people from all over Israel gathered at the airport to say goodbye to Ezra Schwartz z”l before his body made its final journey home to Sharon, Massachusetts. Instead of singing songs of mourning and vengeance as one would expect, those gathered sang songs of hope, redemption and faith for a brighter future. The precedent for this, I believe, is found in this week’s parsha, Parshat VaYishlach.
In this week’s parsha, Yakov is returning home after many years in hiding. He is anxiously awaiting his reunion with his brother Esav, the same brother from whom he has been hiding for fourteen years. Yakov is worried for his own life. His brother hated him, so who’s to say Yakov will be able to return unscathed? One night, as Yakov rests by the riverside, he is suddenly engaged in a fight with a strange man. According to Rashi, this man is an Angel, symbolic of Esav and all that he stands for. Yakov and Esav’s angel fight until dawn. The Angel rips out Yakov’s sciatic nerve and then blesses Yakov, renaming his “Israel” for he has struggled with both G-d and Man and persevered. This section of the parsha ends with the commandment not to eat the sciatic nerve, a mitzvah that Jews keep until today by only eating kosher meat (which by default does not contain the sciatic nerve).
The Ramban comments on this incident, remarking that the entire encounter is symbolic of the struggle between the Jewish people and their enemies. In the future, there will come a time where all seems dark. Where in the middle of the night an enemy pounces, and struggles with the Jewish people, but when dawn comes, the Jews will stand up victorious, embracing their full identity as “Yisrael” or “Israel.”
The Sefer HaChinuch writes that the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve is rooted in the idea of Jewish survival. Every time one eats kosher meat, they are reminded of Yakov’s struggle with the Angel, and in a larger sense that the Jewish people will overcome any challenge that comes their way. There will will be a time when the dawn will finally come and the Jewish people will no longer be targeted by enemies.
At the end of the day, it takes nerve (pun intended) to keep hoping. Life can be scary and bleak, but the only way to get through it all is to stand firm in our belief that one day there will be a redemption, and that one day this madness will end.
Yakov teaches us how to cope. As a people, when tragedy after tragedy is thrown our way we have to keep believing and keep hoping for a brightertomorrow. Yakov shows us that the day we’ve been dreaming of will come. There will be a better future. We’ve just got to keep believing that it will come, and that it can be our reality.
By: Sarah Engel
West Coast VP Campaign Programming and National Board President