The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - RABBI CHANAN AT­LAS

“And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him” Ex­o­dus 4:24

A sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of Moses’s and Ja­cob’s biographies seem to be the same story: both run away to a far­away coun­try un­der the threat of death, en­counter a woman by a well (whom they later marry), are in­vited into their home by the woman’s fa­ther, then tend their fa­ther in law’s flocks, are told by God to go back to their orig­i­nal home, have a mys­te­ri­ous and mys­ti­cal un­pleas­ant en­counter on their way home and fi­nally meet their brother when they come back home.

There are how­ever sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences. Moses’s mys­te­ri­ous en­counter is clearly re­ported to be with God, while Ja­cob’s is more am­bigu­ous; it is first re­ported to be with a man, but then it seems to be more, to the ex­tent he is de­scribed by his op­po­nent as hav­ing striven with God. Ja­cob and God are thus de­scribed as “wrestling”, as be­ing on the same level, while in Moses’s case, God is the Almighty and Moses to­tally help­less. Ja­cob alone faces God, while Moses’s wife and son are part of his drama.

These episodes may rep­re­sent two ar­che­typ­i­cal en­coun­ters with the Divine. God’s tran­scen­dence makes any en­counter with Him ter­ri­fy­ing and dan­ger­ous.

How­ever, Ja­cob’s is a lonely ex­pe­ri­ence and he re­sponds by stand­ing up to it, strug­gling through the dark­ness of the night. Moses’s en­counter in­volves oth­ers, his son and wife. Moses does not re­spond but re­mains pas­sive; it is his wife who is his sal­va­tion.

We are both the chil­dren of Is­rael (Ja­cob) and the dis­ci­ples of Moses; we at once obey God and strug­gle with Him. Faith is both a com­mu­nal and in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ence and both are dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing.

Faith man­i­fests it­self within an in­di­vid­ual through con­stant strug­gle, while its com­mu­nal man­i­fes­ta­tion is one of com­mit­ment and ob­ser­vance. It is the same in­di­vid­ual who, while strug­gling with God through a long dark and cold night, feel­ing lonely and for­saken, si­mul­ta­ne­ously par­tic­i­pates in a com­mu­nity of faith through the ob­ser­vance of God’s com­mand­ments.

The Jewish re­li­gious char­ac­ter strug­gles with God (Is­rael) and at the same time ex­pects God to pull him (Moses) through his trou­bles.

Strug­gle with­out com­mit­ment is not faith, and obe­di­ence with­out ques­tion­ing is not gen­uine — only both these as­pects com­bined give mean­ing to re­li­gious life.

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