Rabbi Robinson’s Sermon, December 1 2023

Parashat Vayishlach 2023 Plaut 220

Source Sheet by Yair Robinson



Genesis 32:25-31

(25) Jacob was left alone. And a figurewrestled with him until the break of dawn. (26) When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. (27) Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” (28) Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” (29) Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (30) Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he took leave of him there. (31) So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”


בראשית ל״ב:כ״הל״א

(כה) וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר׃ (כו) וַיַּ֗רְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יָכֹל֙ ל֔וֹ וַיִּגַּ֖ע בְּכַף־יְרֵכ֑וֹ וַתֵּ֙קַע֙ כַּף־יֶ֣רֶךְ יַעֲקֹ֔ב בְּהֵאָֽבְק֖וֹ עִמּֽוֹ׃ (כז) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שַׁלְּחֵ֔נִי כִּ֥י עָלָ֖ה הַשָּׁ֑חַר וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֲשַֽׁלֵּחֲךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־בֵּרַכְתָּֽנִי׃ (כח) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו מַה־שְּׁמֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹֽב׃ (כט) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃ (ל) וַיִּשְׁאַ֣ל יַעֲקֹ֗ב וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַגִּֽידָה־נָּ֣א שְׁמֶ֔ךָ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה תִּשְׁאַ֣ל לִשְׁמִ֑י וַיְבָ֥רֶךְ אֹת֖וֹ שָֽׁם׃ (לא) וַיִּקְרָ֧א יַעֲקֹ֛ב שֵׁ֥ם הַמָּק֖וֹם פְּנִיאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־רָאִ֤יתִי אֱלֹהִים֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים וַתִּנָּצֵ֖ל נַפְשִֽׁי׃


Story: Whose “I”? 

One day in class one of the students was in a funk, clearly down in the dumps. Her fellow students all gathered around, concerned about their classmate’s depression, and decided to try to cheer her up.

“Chaveret, you seem so unhappy. Why are you so sad today?”

“I’m upset about the aleph-bet.”

The students all looked confused at one another. “The alphabet? What’s upsetting about the alphabet?”

“Well, not the whole aleph-bet. Just two letters.”

“Okay.” The students asked. “Which two? ”

“Aleph and bet. The first two. You see, the beit is the first letter in the Torah–Berehsit, “when God began”, and aleph is the first letter of the Ten Commandments, “anochi”,  “I am”.

“Okay” said the students. “We know this. So what’s the problem.”

“Why should ‘I’ always come first! Why should every beginning be preceded by ego and selflessness! How can I ever serve others, find the good in others, if my “I” will always come first?

“But,” replied the class, “isn’t the “anochi” of aleph, the ‘anochi’ of the Ten Commandments God?”

With that, the student smiled, jumped up, said, “Thank you!” and ran out to play.

It is hard, sometimes, to think of the needs of others. But when we remember with gratitude what others have done for us, how they have acted as God’s agents in the world, we are better able to turn that gratitude into generosity toward others as well, doing what our Torah invites us to do.

(Story called “The Alphabet of Sorrow” from Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Hasidic Tales)

 Source Sheet created on Sefaria by Yair Robinson