One way that I relate my Torah portion with my life is through...CATS! You may be wondering, what in the world do cats have to do with your portion? Well! That’s for me to know, and you to find out!
My Torah portion today was vayishlach. In this portion, Jacob receives word of his brother Esau coming to meet him, bringing four hundred men with him. This frightens Jacob because many years ago, Jacob had stolen Esau’s blessing and Esau had threatened to kill him. That’s why he ran away. Now that Jacob is returning home, he tries to make peace with his brother while protecting his family at the same time. Jacob sends Esau a letter saying he will give Esau part of his flock. Jacob then sends his wives, his maidservants, and his kids across the river . And that leaves him alone. The Torah says that a man wrestled with Jacob all night, wrenching out Jacob’s hip. Jacob does not let the man flee until the man blesses him. The man blesses Jacob with the new name “Israel”.
What I would like to ask is this: Who was the man?
The Torah says “a man”. It doesn’t describe him as a human, or an angel, or a divine being. However, the Man said when blessing Jacob, “‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.’” As far as the Torah goes, Jacob had never striven with anything divine before then, so if the angel is telling Jacob he had striven with a divine being, he would most likely be that being.
When the Man left, Jacob named the place Peniel, which means, “‘I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved. Jacob also says “divine being”. The Torah states, “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him all night.” Did you hear that “And”? “And” is a key word. If you listen to the way these two sentences are written, you’ll see that the “and” is saying “At the same time”, or “Also”. Jacob was alone, but he was also wrestling with a Man? Strange, right?
Other commentators answered the question with many different possibilities. Rashi (one of the greatest Torah scholars, who lived in the 11th century) said that the man was “Esau’s Angel”, who was giving Jacob a chance to apologize for stealing his blessing.
Commentator Nina Kallen (1900s to 2000s) said that the man was a vampire that would turn to dust when the sun touches its skin, which is why it wanted to leave before the dawn broke.
Rabbi Morris Adler, an American rabbi in the 20th century, said God sent an angel to prevent Jacob from running away. He also said Jacob’s greatest enemy was not Esau, but all the evil things inside of him. These evil things were things such as fearfulness and deception . After he had this confrontation, he tried hard to not deceive people as much.
Elie Wiesel says that Jacob is fighting with himself. He believes that there were two Jacobs inside him: the Jacob that thought negative thoughts and the Jacob that thought positive thoughts. Ever heard the saying “The angel and devil on your shoulders”? I guess that’s kind of what Wiesel said happened to Jacob. Jacob had to fight positive against negative, good against bad, lying and truthfulness, until eventually, positive--being honest and truthful-- won.
My opinion is that Jacob was, in fact, alone, but he was dreaming. The divine being came to him in his dream, so Jacob was technically still alone. However, divine beings are, well, divine, so it is possible that he could have wrenched out Jacob’s hip in the dream, and in real life. We know Jacob’s hip must have been actually wrenched out, because after the angel left, he was limping.
The man wanted to leave before dawn broke, maybe because Jacob would wake up. So, putting it all together, Jacob was left alone, a divine force visited him in a dream, wrenched out Jacob’s hip, also doing so in real life, blessed Jacob because Jacob didn’t let him leave until he did so,
Jacob woke up, the divine being leaving as he did so, and Jacob named the place Peniel.
Now, this brings up a new question. Why did this being come? I used what I knew about my life to figure this out. When I’m embarrassed, or sad, or regretful, I usually feel like I want to go back in time. I want to do it over again, to get a second chance. Jacob got the new name “Israel”, giving him a second chance.
You know who else got a second chance? Cats! At the Second Chance Cat Shelter!
For my mitzvah project I went to The Second Chance Cat Shelter, which is an organization that finds homeless cats and cats that were thrown out by their owners, and basically gives them a second chance. They are taken in and taken care of until they can be adopted. I helped out Sheera, who was the owner, feeder, brusher, petter, and basically almost every other job you can think of that would be done at a cat shelter. My job was mostly getting the fur out of everything that the cats touched, helping to feed them, and brush a few. But, even though most of those sound like chores your mom would make you do, -love ya, mom- it was still really fun. I got to hang out with the cats watch them interact with each other.
The two cats that really stand out to me are Neigel and Chubs. They are somewhat like Jacob and Esau. They fight, but are still good friends. Cats all have personalities, just like people. They all need to be taken care of for as long as possible. It’s not about the pleasure of living, but about the people who help make living pleasureful. Sheera knows that some of her cats will never be able to be adopted, whether it’s because they’re wild, or they have illnesses that need to be very carefully treated, or they just hate people, Sheera will take great care of them anyway.
Sheera helps so many cats, and there have been so many people who have helped me.
There are so many people I want to thank, I don’t know where to begin. Oh, wait! Yes I do! First, I would like to thank my parents, for taking me to tutoring, always being there for me, and most of all, helping make this day happen. I would like to thank my sister, Morgan, for telling me about her bat-mitzvah, and helping me get through mine. I would like to thank Tracy, my bat-mitzvah tutor and former teacher. I couldn’t be here without her. I would like to thank my relatives who came so far to get here just for me. And last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank all of my friends who have tried to understand my Torah portion, helped me write my d’var Torah, and even now, sitting through two hours of me saying and chanting and singing things in a language they don’t understand. I just know where I would be without you guys. Thank you.