Angelic Luggage?

Welcome to the second week of my new collaboration with Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher.

Some of you have asked about the possibility of obtaining the original artwork she creates. For this collaboration, the size of most drawings is 24 X 18 inches; the medium is pastel and india ink.

M’ Shoshana would be happy to entertain discussions for the original artwork; copies, however, are difficult and won’t be offered. Just send her an email and I’m sure you will have a rewarding exchange!

As for this week’s midrash: it visits a familiar event from what I hope is a different perspective. Let me know your thoughts, and I will share some of them in our next email!

The Crossing

Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
Visit her gallery
Contact her at shoshbm@gmail.com

"And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." (Gen. 32:25)

In this week’s portion, Vayishlach, we find the encounter that leads Jacob to be renamed as Israel – G!d wrestler. Of course, the Hebrew is sufficiently ambiguous that who Jacob encounters is left open for a rich assemblage of midrash. Was it G!d? An angel? Jacob’s Yeitzer Ra? Oh, what a delicious feast!

While the "big question" in this passage is "with whom did Jacob wrestle?" there is also the question of location: it seems as if Jacob is going back and forth from one side of the river to the other. What is going on here? Here’s one midrash that tells an unexpected story, and teaches a lesson that seems timely:

Once R. Hiyya the Elder and R. Simeon b. Rabbi were trading in silks at Tyre. After they had left the town, they said: "Let us go and emulate the example of our ancestors; let us see if we have left anything behind." They went back and found a bale of silk. On being asked whence they had learned to do this they replied: "From the Patriarch Jacob, who likewise went back."

The Rabbis said: He appeared to him in the guise of a brigand: each had flocks and each had camels, and he proposed to him: "Do you take mine across and I will take yours – let us help each other." The angel then transported Jacob’s in the twinkling of an eye, whereas Jacob took some across, returned, and found more, took those across, returned, and found more, and so on.

Midrash Rabbah – Genesis LXXVII:24

Sometimes the simplest of stories contain deep lessons. On its surface, this is a very simple tale, one with a bit of humor: Jacob and an angel agree to help carry their belongings across the river for each other. The angel does it with a wink; poor Jacob has to keep going back and forth, back and forth: it seems like a never-ending task! And what kind of baggage would an angel have, anyway? How much could it weigh? Why would it take so long?

The answer is, as is so often the case, to stand the story on its head, or at least our assumptions about it. Jacob’s baggage – our baggage, our burdens, the cares of this world – are as light and easily dispensed with in the world of the Spirit as can be. What does the angel carry from that world? Blessings and more blessings, in abundant, never-ending supply. As long as we keep returning, there will be more – just like the rabbis’ silks. All that is required is that we act in partnership with G!d, not expecting G!d to do everything for us, nor to deny the assistance that G!d can give. When we are partners, not only are our burdens lightened, but the whole journey is sweeter.

May this week bring you many journeys to, with and for the world of Spirit!

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