THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“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.