I heard a lovely idea once from Rabbi Shlomo Levin of South Hampstead Synagogue. In this week’s portion, prior to his struggle with the angel, the Torah tells us that Jacob remained ‘alone’ on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Our sages point out that there is another place in the Bible where the word, ‘alone’ is used and that is referring to God.
Rabbi Levin explained that there is a quality of aloneness that we human beings share with God. I’d like to paraphrase some of what he said and add a little more of my own.
Humans are essentially social beings. We look to others for support, for love, for connection, for security etc. But deep inside, there is a part of us that is entirely ‘alone’. And that part is our essence. That part is our true nature, our Godliness. We are born alone. We die alone. And, ultimately, we live our lives in that ‘alone’ space. And the Torah welcomes this; it praises it as a quality that Jacob displayed. It means that we can feel lonely down to our core – no matter how many people we have around us. And it also means that we can feel strong, independent and Godly – even alone on a desert island. I believe it is just a question of whether we embrace or reject this quality of aloneness.
The Rabbis tell us that a human being should say to him or herself, ‘the world was created for me’. Not in an arrogant way, but in a humbly grateful way. God did not create this world for seven billion people to share an experience together. He created it to provide seven billion experiences of the beautiful and inspiring aloneness of the human soul. Yes, we care, we contribute, we give, we love and we provide for others. But, ultimately, when it comes to ‘me’, I am utterly ‘alone’ in my choices. No one can decide for me. Yes, people may compel and coerce me in how I act. But no one can force me – in any way whatsoever – in how I choose. That is entirely and completely in my hands. Choices are mine and only mine to make – and choices happen to be the essence of life; independence, getting to be my own person, finding my own way and carving my own path. Alone. This is the greatness of our world. The aloneness of it all. It is the Godliness of our world; the deep, glorious and dramatic Godliness that is at the very core of every human being.
Lonely? Only if you believe you need others to help define and support your identity. Alone? That’s something very different. It is Godly, uplifting and the purpose of our world. It isn’t lonely, it’s expansive.
From a place of being alone, we get to give; we get to be of service; we get to contribute, to be kind and loving. Because, in that our soul needs nothing from anyone, giving is the only option that remains.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Jacob returns to Israel, only to find that his brother Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men – not a welcoming party. Jacob appeases Esau, and prays to God for salvation. Ever the pragmatist, however, he prepares for battle also. He has no wish to fight. But neither is he afraid of doing so. Esau, overwhelmed by Jacob’s generosity, welcomes his brother home.
Jacob’s troubles, however, are far from over. His daughter, Dinah, is raped by the son of a local chieftain, Shchem. Things go from bad to worse as two of his sons, Simeon and Levi take justice into their own hands and single-handedly slaughter the whole tribe. See below for commentary on this.
Jacob’s wife, Rachel, dies while giving birth to Benjamin, her second son and the portion concludes with a discussion of the family and descendants of Esau. But for Jacob, the worst is yet to come…… Tune in next week.