We are living through a trying time for humanity. As we consider the vicious attacks of these past weeks, who among us does not feel some measure of apprehension or even fear? Where will they strike next? How are we possibly going to eradicate those “martyrs” who find holiness in murdering innocent people? How are we going to restore civilized living at a time when the number of uncivilized people is increasing and when they seem to be “smarter” than ever?
I think of an episode related in the Torah this week. We are told that upon his return home, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious “man” who appears to be stronger and more powerful than him. All night long the struggle continues, with Jacob refusing to let go until the mysterious man will grant him a blessing. Jacob is wounded in the struggle-a physical wound that he would carry his entire life. But Jacob does prevail, and so is his name changed from Jacob, “the supplanter,” to Israel, “the one who prevails with God.”
While there are many interpretations of this story, some see it as foretelling the struggles that we Jews would encounter in our quest to survive in this world against our various adversaries.
Jacob does prevail, but not without great courage, perseverance, and determination. Yes, there is enough goodness in our world to warm our hearts, even as there is enough evil in our world to break our souls. But persevere we must if we are to live fulfilling and worthy lives. And it is only fear, perhaps justified, that can keep us from living the full and rich lives that we seek.
The great sage, Rabbi Nachman, taught that “all of life is as the crossing of a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.” So for us we are a people that have always believed that goodness and light can and will prevail in our world. And so, at a time when so many people are feeling fearful of the future, may we persist in our personal quests and visions, and may we be granted the courage and faith to overcome our fears.
Rabbi David Greenberg