Facing our fear


In this week’s Torah reading, Jacob is filled with fear.  He terrified that Esau is coming to attack him and his people, that he faces an existential disaster.  In the face of this fear, it is striking what Jacob does not do.  He does not take the easy way out.  He does not run away, he does not preemptively attack, and he does not hide behind others.  Instead, he takes steps to ensure the safety of his people, he prays to God for protection, and he reaches out to Esau in the hope of engendering some empathy and understanding in the heart of the person he fears most.  And then he crosses the Jabok River, stays the night by himself, and in that dark night he wrestles with the divine, with the obligations placed on him, with his fear of killing or being killed.  In the morning he finds that he has neither prevailed nor been beaten, and that is where he finds blessing.  And when he finally goes to meet Esau, he is met not with violence but with an embrace.
In the face of the terrible antisemitic attack on a kosher grocery store in Jersey City this week, so close to us, in which four innocent people were murdered, and with knowledge of rising antisemitism in the world around us, it is not surprising if we, like Jacob, are filled with fear, terrified of those who seek to attack us and our people.  But we cannot and will not run away, we cannot and must not turn and attack others with words or deeds, and we cannot and dare not hide behind those who are even more at risk, when we know that all of us with minority identities in this country are in this together.  Instead, we need to follow the hard path of Jacob:  take the steps we need to take to ensure our safety, pray to God for protection and strength, and reach out to each other and to those around us to band together in solidarity.  We are not alone, and this can give us the courage to live with our fears, to embrace our identities, to cross the river and face what is on the other side.