17 Kislev 5777 – Vayishlach

I wish a very hearty Mazal Tov to the Potash family on Ben’s Bar-Mitzvah this weekend. We can’t wait to celebrate together with you!

Allow me to share with you something very special that took place this week. As you can see in the accompanying picture, I am placing Tefillin on a gentleman who attended our Sunday morning service. This was the first time in his life that he had fulfilled this Mitzvah of donning Tefillin. Some of you may recognise the man in the picture as he has been attending our Shabbat day service for many months now.

Daniel only discovered Judaism close to a year ago, but since then he has become an active participant in our community and a proud Jew. In fact. right now, he is in Israel (also for the first time) taking part in a short tour that I arranged for him. Last Shabbat Daniel told me that he was looking forward to putting on Tefillin for the first time at the Kotel and asked me how he would be able to find someone to help him tie them. I said to him; “Why wait to put them on in Israel! Come to Shul tomorrow morning and I will show you how to put them on. When you can do a Mitzvah now, why wait even a day or two!” So he came.

Daniel’s story teaches us something incredibly powerful. It is never too late to shift our focus in life and we must never shy away from following our inner calling. Every moment is precious. Whenever an opportunity comes our way that offers spiritual depth, meaning and benefit to others, we must seize it no matter how daunting a task it may be.

As we will explore over Shabbat, after thirty-four years of separation, Jacob decides to make the long journey back home to visit his father in the Land of Canaan. As he approaches his destination, he is informed that his brother, Esau was plotting to confront him and kill him. If we think about it, the task was tremendous and victory seemed all but impossible. Esau was a skilled hunter and assassin. Jacob and his family were farmers and tent-dwellers. Not only that, but Esau had prepared a small army to take on his younger brother. Yet what did Jacob do? Did he keep going or did he turn back around and flee? He dug in his heels and stood his ground. It required a lot of prayer and thoughtful planning, but Jacob eventually succeeded in achieving reconciliation with Esau and the two brothers left in peace.

But that’s not all. In the midst of this episode Jacob encounters an Angel that threatens to kill him. Jacob is not a young man any more, whereas this Angel is armed with celestial strength and superhuman powers. Jacob could easily have given up against this almost insurmountable adversary by waving the white flag. Yet they battle the entire night and Jacob eventually prevails.

It is in the context of these two episodes that G-d changes Jacob’s name from “Jacob” to “Israel” since he had “battled with G-d and with man and overcame”. To attain the title “Israel” requires a fight. Nothing that is truly good ever comes easy. We all face this struggle in our lives. Some of us face it in our younger years and some later on in life. But when the battle to reveal our true identities and core values comes along, lets rise to the occasion and overcome them. After all, this is what it means to be a Jew.

Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman

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