Religion & Beliefs

Jake’s Thing: A Divinely-Delivered Limp

Jacob is a paradigmatic figure for our own spiritual growth. At the early stages of his life, he is led to his legacy by a powerful parent, played off another parent, something of an academic goody-goody (the rabbis of the … Read More

By / December 7, 2006
Jacob is a paradigmatic figure for our own spiritual growth.

At the early stages of his life, he is led to his legacy by a powerful parent, played off another parent, something of an academic goody-goody (the rabbis of the Talmud argue that while Esau was out worshipping idols, Jacob was in the Beit Midrash studying Torah–good boy!)

For sake of argument, he was given a nice Bar Mitzvah, aced his Torah reading, and sent packing by the hot pursuit of an angry brother for sucker punching the life out of the family dynamic. He took what he could get and ran.

On the way, in last week’s Torah reading, Jacob “happens upon” a place and discovers God. He didn’t know God could or would be there and he begins to discern that there is a randomness, a spontaneity to one’s relationship to the Divine that is beyond the powers of human manipulation. The radical surprise element that in its inherent unpredicatability is, also, inherently humbling.

Some things are beyond even our power. The armor of his arrogance is pierced.

This week, Jacob wrestles an angel. Here too one may see that arrogance: to think one can even wrestle God; to demand from God a blessing (as opposed to, I suppose, a feeling of gratitude for even surviving such a terrifying moment.)

For many commentators, this transition–from achieving birthright and blessing through deceit (the beginning of the Jacob and Esau story) to authority (wrestling it from a divine being) is an expression of Jacob’s evolution which, even after the encounter with the angel, is still not complete since Jacob leaves the dream walking with a limp. A price is physically exacted upon Jacob for his as yet redeemed relationship with Esau.

Unlike some commentators who see in this struggle an ongoing conflict with Gentiles, I prefer a more internalized struggle in which, just as Jacob walks away from the dream with a limp, we understand that even on the most physical of levels, we are ultimately humbled by our encounters with the Divine.

Our spiritual arrogance can be seen in the first dream at the ladder–angels accompany us, working day and night shifts to protect us in our knowledge of the birthright.

Our spriitual humility can be seen in the second dream with the angel–it’s true that we wrestle to a draw but in our physical engagement, but we come away flawed, with a limp.

This limp is an eternal reminder that our direct action in the world (the performance of mitzvot) is a physically manifested expression of our spirituality that both links us to the Divine while simultaneously reminding us that our own “authority” is ultimately, a humbling reality.