Once again, Jacob has left the past behind. In Va'Yishlach, this week's Torah portion, twenty years after leaving Canaan for Haran, Jacob leaves Haran for Canaan, the land of his birth. On his way back home, before crossing the Jabbok River, Jacob must wrestle with a man. This man's identity is not clear to Jacob. Perhaps he believes the man is a river demon, a common motif in ancient literature. Jacob soon learns, though, that the man is divine. At this realization, Jacob insists, "I will not let you go until you bless me" (Genesis 32:27).
Jacob's understanding of the man as a demon may reflect Jacob's feelings about his bitter past in Haran, marked by conflict and guile. Jacob's subsequent realization that the man is an angel may reflect Jacob's hope for a happier future.
We Americans must wrestle with our own demons and our own bitter past -- inexplicable hate, horrific violence, injustices. We must reckon with these aspects of our society to ensure they remain relics of the past and do not become fixtures of our future, G-d forbid. As the modern commentator Benno Jacob wrote, "G-d answers a person's prayers if the person prays by searching himself, becoming his own opponent."
As we consider our blessings this Thanksgiving, let us search ourselves and consider our bitter demons. Let us wrestle with and defeat them. Only after such a reckoning will we turn our demons into angels; only then may we be more fully blessed.
Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill