Vayishlach 5783 – Na’ar Hayiti
“I hate confrontation.” Have you ever heard this sentence before? Have you uttered it yourself? Knowing you have an issue you need to confront with another person – be they a family member, a friend, or a co-worker – can bring intense anxiety and fear. Humans in general are afraid of confrontation. We fear being unliked. We fear we may not be able to communicate effectively. We fear the other person may not approach the situation with as much empathy as we hope to have for them. So we try to dance around the issue or approach solutions in creative ways when deep down we know that what we really must do is speak honestly face to face.
There is a Chasidic tale told about Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi (The Alter Rebbe i.e. the first rebbe of Chabad), and Reb Baruch of Medzhybizh who were in a longstanding and perpetual state of disagreement. Peacekeepers and messengers were sent back and forth multiple times but were unable to repair the relationship, and their rift grew wider and wider. After many years, Reb Baruch said, “We see that when Jacob sought to assuage Esau’s anger, the Torah says,
וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו אֶל־עֵשָׂו אָחִי
Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau (Genesis 32:4)
And the end result? Nothing. A few verses later we read,
וַיָּשֻׁבוּ הַמַּלְאָכִים אֶל־יַעֲקֹב לֵאמֹר בָּאנוּ אֶל־אָחִיךָ אֶל־עֵשָׂו וְגַם הֹלֵךְ לִקְרָאתְךָ וְאַרְבַּע־מֵאוֹת אִישׁ עִמּֽוֹ׃
The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau; he himself is
coming to meet you, with four hundred men with him.”
That is to say: confrontation and war.”
Only when Jacob and Esau finally met face to face were they able to set aside their differences and make peace with each other. From here we learn that with matters of repair we can’t trust messengers – we have to do the work ourselves. And if there is something we must do that we fear, only when we step into the breach and face those fears will we find success.
I wrote this particular song after a shooting in 2014. I don’t often write lyrics in English, I usually prefer to let the words of our tradition speak through my melodies. But these words from the Psalms inspired me:
נַעַר הָיִיתִי גַּם־זָקַנְתִּי וְלֹא־רָאִיתִי צַדִּיק נֶעֱזָב
I was young and am now old, and I have never seen a righteous person abandoned. (Psalms 37:25)
I believe these words are not meant to be said as a fact, but rather as an aspiration. What would the world look like if we didn’t abandon those who need and deserve help? The first step in facing a problem is acknowledging that the problem exists. Then we awaken the desire in ourselves to change, and finally we go out and face our fears.
This week and beyond, I bless us to learn from our ancestor Jacob. May we find within ourselves the capacity to understand our fears, the desire to seek repair, and the bravery to face them head on.