In the beginning of this week’s parasha we read of Yaakov’s epic encounter with his evil twin brother Eisav. It has been 22 years since Yaakov fled his home, escaping his brother’s evil murderous plans, leaving behind the land of Israel to live and work in the house of Lavan. Now Yaakov is married with children and in journeying back to Israel prepares himself for this inevitable face-off. However, in the midst of the story unfolding the Torah interrupts to describe a rather strange clash between Yaakov and an unidentified man:
Yaakov’s family had crossed the river when he realized that he may have left something important on the other side. Alone, Yaakov crosses the river and encounters this man who he subsequently wars with in a wrestling match of note. The Torah describes the episode:
“And Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn . . .”
Who is this man and why is it so important for the Torah to tell us of this grappling struggle?
Our Sages explain that this was no ordinary man, but rather an angel, the Saro Shel Eisav, the protecting angel of Eisav, and is seen as the archenemy of the Jew and anything holy; the Yetzer Hara himself (the Evil Inclination).
There is much to learn from the details of this struggle but one of the fascinating and instructive aspects of this heroic battle between good and evil is that it occurred when Yaakov was “Levado”, by himself.
Yaakov’s fight for truth and holiness and his successful victory happens when no one is watching. Here is the quintessential silent hero . There is a beautiful message in this simple, perhaps easily overlooked, fact.
We live in a world today where so much of our lives are on show, as we display our achievements, possessions, looks and status to onlookers hoping to glean as many “likes” as possible. ‘Reality’ TV has made voyeurism socially acceptable, FACEBOOK allows the average person to be a ‘someone’ by updating and posting their hour by hour expeditions to their 1000’s of ‘friends’ as they bask in light of the ‘likes’ they receive and so many people throughout the world are chasing the next ‘high’ that comes from other’s impressed looks at their latest car, house, outfit, hairstyle, fit look, achievement etc. It is almost as if the achievements, victories and successes of our lives are worthless until someone somehow somewhere has seen them and been wow’ed.
But there is a certain sanctity to the silent victories, the quiet successes, the modest achievements where no one has to know or see for it to be worthy. In fact, Torah teaches us that the hidden is the area of true honor, as the verse says “Cavod Elokim, Hester Davar” – the true glory of G-d is a hidden matter – ( Mishlei 25:2) which is frequently cited to mean that true ‘fame’ and ‘honor’ is that which is earned through deeds done without any audience or hope for approval.
The sefer Shaarei Kedusha by the great Kabbalist Rav Chaim Vital, speaks strongly of the virtue of not revealing the quiet good deeds you have done. Are you able to perform some act of kindness, help someone or the like and keep it secret? Do you feel the burning need to tell people about your talents, accomplishments, titles, wealth? Is there a marked difference in the kindness you show when you know someone is watching? Often we feel the need to reveal that which we have accomplished (a good deed, accomplishments in life, work, titles) but we do so subtly so as not to be seen as overly arrogant but still ensuring that the impression gets across.
Nevertheless, our Torah teaches us that the true power of the good that we do and accomplish is nurtured and protected by its remaining hidden . This ensures that our intentions were pure and not simply just for the praise and ego strokes we get from other’s acclaim and admiration when they hear or see what we did.
There is a deep reason, however, that we seek honor and acclaim, why we yearn for being praised and ‘liked’ by others and why we mistakenly attach our hopes of self-worth on the judgments of others. We all yearn to be big, to be bigger than we are. When we have the attention of others, their admiration, their approval – we feel bigger. We feel as though we have extended ourself outwards and expanded to become a real ‘someone’. But the truth is that that the expansion of acclaim has no real impact on genuine self worth. It only gives us a superficial boost that dissipates moments after it arrives. The ego is inflated but the real essence of self is not touched.
Our desire to be big comes from a deep place. It is our soul calling out, wanting to connect to the Ultimate greatness, to plug into Hashem and live in a way that reveals His light. When we try and shine our own light, to be a ‘someone’, we only block our true holy light from shining – the light of humility, the light of holiness, the light of Soul. But when we realize that the key to being a real genuine ‘someone’ is in fact internalizing that we are already some of the ONE, that our G-dly soul is in fact etched out from the Big One Himself, then we begin to access genuine self-worth, genuine greatness and no one had to see or comment on it to make us feel big.
This recognition comes through cultivating modesty, holding back from displaying, and focusing on the inner and not what people are thinking of the outer.
May we all merit the true G-dly honor of the hidden through the silent, quiet victories of life,