Saturday, December 09, 2006

417. Jacob, part 1

(I've barely made a dent my my work since the last post, but I'm taking time to write anyway. So there.)

I got the call last Wednesday to lead another shiva minyan, a third family member of a congregant to die within the week. I'm teaching a friend how to chant; her lesson ended just before the minyan began and we walked over together--until she turned left and I right, so she could attend the other minyan just two blocks away for a different bereaved family. Too much sadness that night in one small part of the neighborhood.

It was the last day of mourning for his father. He wasn't a regular synagogue-goer, but told us he was comforted by the constant buzz of visitors who, each night after the prayer service, offered unfamiliar and sometimes surprising recollections of his dad. Shiva was a way to hold on just a little bit longer. But grasping a memory, he said, was only small consolation compared to hugging an actual, live person, like the early Sunday mornings when he was a kid wrestling and roughhousing with his dad after diving gleefully into his parents' bed before the rest of the house was awake. It struck me as a particularly poignant memory for this week, when we read the story of Jacob wrestling all night long with a mysterious being who gives him a new name, Israel, but won't reveal his own. I think parents and children, like God and the Jewish people, are engaged in a constant wrestling match of love. Sometimes it's painful, sometimes fun, but we all emerge with different names, new identities, and revelations about who we are and what our role should be in this world. The hardest part is knowing when to ignore the pain of battle and simply accept the love and wisdom that, even when cloaked under a long night of darkness, is why we struggle in the first place.


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