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    Jacob’s children are a credit – Vayyishlach

    Jacob & the angel, by Gustave Doré, 1855

    The famous story of the all-night tussle between Jacob and his unknown assailant is the dramatic centrepiece of this week’s portion, Vayyishlach.

    It culminates in the assailant, unable to defeat Jacob any other way, touching “the hollow of his thigh (so that) the hollow of his thigh was strained” (Gen. 32:26).

    Many commentators have worked on this verse, seeking to understand what it finally was that enabled the assailant to prevail.

    The answer that Sforno gives is that Jacob was fighting a disguised angel who told the patriarch of the transgressions which his descendants would commit, and hearing this unnerved and weakened Jacob so much that the angel was able to close in and hurt him.

    I have often asked myself whether the angel was being fair. Even granting that angels might possess the gift of prophecy, how serious have the transgressions of Jacob’s descendants really been?

    That we and our ancestors are not and never have been paragons of total virtue is no secret. But surely our good points have always outweighed our bad.

    Surely an angel with a sense of fairness should have told Jacob the real truth; Jacob would not have been so upset, and our reputation would have been redeemed.

    Since every one of us is part of the record of Jewish deeds, whatever they have been, positive or negative, maybe we should have had the chance of defending ourselves.

    After all, this is what we are allowed on Kol Nidrei night when the poet says, Hass kategor v’kach sanegor m’komo – “Accuser, silence! Defender, take his place!”

    Bialik tells a story that deserves to be remembered.

    Angry with the Jewish people for their neglect of His word, God ordered them to send the Torah back.

    They had no choice but to comply, and so wagon-load after wagon-load of Biblical and rabbinic manuscripts wended their way back to Heaven.

    So relieved was God to see this evidence of Jewish faithfulness to our tradition that He decided that Israel deserved the Torah after all.

    Many are the ways in which we have been and are true to the Jewish heritage – especially in our unremitting belief in the fundamental decency of human beings and in our centuries-long record of ethical concern and moral living.

    Despite the occasional lapses, there is so much about us that the angel would approve.

    Jacob’s children really have been a credit.

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