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Jack Burke and Andy Bowen fought a 7-hour battle for a southern regional title in 1893 at the Olympic Club in New Orleans.
Is Violence in Itself Something Good or Bad?
We have been taught all our lives that violence only leads to more violence. What any parent wants most is for his children to get along with each other. The teachers in our school never tire of teaching their students to share, to live together despite differences. The Torah teaches us love for our neighbor, I could spend hours citing examples.
But this week we read in Parshat Vayishlach the story of one of the longest and most unequal fights, 1 on 1, that a simple man could ever have. That man was Jacob. And his destiny was marked forever after that moment when he was left alone on the road and an Angel fought against him. The intentions of this angel are not clear nor how the fight broke out, but in any case what is clear is that Jacob did not stop to rest for even a second and continued defending his life against this strange being.
Finally, after fighting all night and seeing that it is dawning, the angel recognizes his defeat and blesses Jacob with the following words:
“Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human (im-Elohim veim-anashim), and have prevailed.”
Rabbeinu Bahya, interprets: “In this instance the word Elohim refers to the angel representing Esau with whom Jacob had wrestled. The words veim-anashim in the same line, refer to Lavan and Esau”.
Psychologists could explain after this exegesis that this violent struggle could have been a kind of internal healing for Jacob; a deep desire for the release of those two family members whom he had on top of him for years. With Lavan he owed a work debt, with Esau he owed a moral debt. Jacob no longer wanted to carry the weight of the debt. He wanted to settle accounts and be free.
It’s this fight against Angel, the one who won was not the one who hit the hardest. We know well that Jacob did not have the gift of physical strength, but that of his brother Esau. Our patriarch’s victory was due to his desperate determination to live and be redeemed. The victory was due to the fact that he knew how to defend his right to life. His later name, Israel, reflects this same idea. The fight for the simple and most legitimate right to exist.
Was violence good in this case? Honestly, it’s hard for me to answer. I believe that the animal kingdom is full of examples of struggle and survival and I believe that we are an integral part of this system. In any case, what I want to emphasize is that this fight was an example of defense and survival and not of imposition, ego, or greed for conquest.
Today Israel continues to fight just as the Torah tells it this week, without losing hope. We have had the blessing of seeing several families of hostages reunite again beyond the pain of having lived the worst nightmare of their lives.
We pray for the dawn of this Torah portion to come again, where finally there will be no more fighting. That we do not have to give more explanations as to why we have the right to exist as a Nation.
We pray that a blessing will soon come to our people, that all the hostages will be released. We pray that peace penetrates the hearts of both adversaries and that new solutions for coexistence are found soon.
Let me be utopian, let me pray.
If Jacob could defeat an angel, perhaps we can achieve this global desire for peace.