Facing up to the enemy
Shabbat Vayishlach: In this portion we see Ya’akov returning to the land after 20 years, returning to face all the issues he had so quickly avoided on his departure. Ya’akov, the one who fled from his brother, unable to confront what had happened, the fear of reprisals, the fear of the unknown, all this dogged his footsteps. We see now a changing Ya’akov, slowly beginning to learn the spiritual lessons he so dearly needed to learn, yet one more lesson awaited him. We read that G-d sends ‘The Angel’ to Ya’akov, and he then finally transforms into and becomes Israel.
Israel has always been surrounded by those who would seek her demise, just as Ya’akov feared here. Would he be welcomed back into the Land again? Would he survive? The fear of real annihilation lurked for Israel then and now. Did Israel think she would survive the re-emergence of her state again in 1948? The locals and nations around her thought she would be destroyed easily, but they were wrong. Israel had to stand up and say no. The current geopolitical reality for Israel is also scary reading, a Lebanon still pulling in multiple directions, each day dealing with the possibility of civil war, Gaza and the so called West Bank (ancient Judea and Samaria) convulsing with violence and hatred, from a human perspective you’d be scared and fear could grip you to the point of non-functioning. And that’s not counting what is happening with Iran. But Ya’akov had to return, he had to face his fears and concerns, and he had to overcome them, just as we have to today. Flight once more or retreat to live outside the Land was not an option. Ya’akov became an overcomer, he became Israel.
As Ya’akov wrestled with G-d there was one feature he did have that the Angel praised, he prevailed. As he clings on for dear life, he doesn’t let go of G-d. He may be dull of hearing G-d but there is no way he is letting go. Come what may he isn’t going to give up. Ya’akov didn’t prevail against G-d. Not even close. This was an unequal match if there ever was one. So what does it mean to be an overcomer? To overcome is not so much to win, but to prevail to the end, to still be there at the end, not giving up despite any situation or events, a stubbornness to see the call through. When the enemy throws everything at you do you wobble or say, AND? And then move on, keep going. Do you know that despite setbacks and the occasional casualty, the battle is already won and truly belongs to the Lord so the outcome is secure? Do you know that Hasatan can’t stop you from fulfilling your call in G-d? If you stop it is because you stopped. To overcome is to just keep going to the end. But we discover, as Ya’akov did that fear is the biggest thing to so often grip our lives. It can prevent you from moving on; the lies of the enemy whispered to you in the quiet moments slowly seem to take on an edge of truth. Overcoming is showing the truth of your faith in the face of aggression and sometimes severe provocation, when everything around you seems to say ‘run’. Overcoming is resisting the enemy and then seeing him flee as the Scriptures say.
But it is not just being passive or going on the defensive that achieves the victory. Ya’akov sees the breakthrough after he does something he seems to have not done before, at least not recorded before, he prays. Read Bereshit 32:9-12, a true and heartfelt prayer based on the promises of G-d. For him it seems it began in prayer, and that is the first step always to overcoming, to raise one’s eyes to the One who can overcome and has overcome. But it doesn’t stop there. We should always offer peace first as the Torah commands, be swift with the feet to offer peace, just like Ya’akov with Esav, but if peace is not accepted there are weapons of attack too, first and foremost the sword of the Word of G-d and prayer. Sometimes only going on the offensive will work. I’m sure that Rav Shaul didn’t mean for us to ‘merely’ spiritualise this warfare though; although we read that we ‘do not fight’ in the physical, clearly we do and it is allowable to defend ourselves against those who would seek our demise. Choosing the right weapon, physical or spiritual means that we must understand where any attack originates from and deal with it accordingly. Israel was often commanded to fight as the last resort, and defend herself. When righteousness prevailed she would win.
Are we all overcomers? Yes, but as I said before, there were two who didn’t let go in the fight: Yeshua and Ya’akov. Now read Rev 5:5. By holding on to the One who overcame all things, including paying the price for our sin, who didn’t give up in the face of extreme agony and pain, we cling to the One whose strength we can draw on to hold on, persevere and just simply not let go. In Him we overcome to the end. And remember, the enemy can’t stop you if you cling to G-d and refuse to give up! That’s being a real overcomer, and it will defeat your fears and anxieties.