Talent is the property of the young. Wisdom belongs to the mature.
Look at our world. The faces of the olympians are the faces of youth. Athletes after thirty decline. By forty they are over the hill. While the Rolling Stones may continue to perform fifty years later, no one would confuse them with their earlier incarnation. And why? Because when we are young we tend to live on the edges of our selves. We focus on our strengths and cultivate them. Our agenda is to tend the flames that burn within and to turn them into a raging fire. Youth celebrates idealism, single-mindedness. It is driven by a yearning for excellence. Is it any surprise it is so attractive?
As we age we surrender that focus on stoking the inner flame. We let go of our agenda to grow our strengths and talents. On the contrary we begin to concentrate on the neglected areas of our selves, the parts that have been in eclipse, the areas of our selves we know we will never excell in. Maturity is about reversing fields. Rather than living on our edges we instead live out of the center of our selves.
Our goal is no longer excellence but balance. Our work is one of integration. We make all of ourselve available to us. In wholeness we gain a new gift, one not available to us when we lived out of our strengths. While pursuit of wholeness is far less compelling and exciting than living on the edges and growing our strengths, the resultant blessing makes it worth the sacrifice. In maturation and integration we gain the gift of wisdom. Wisdom is always found in the center and in the balanced. Posessing wisdom does not win us gold medals. Wise people have few groupies. Yet wisdom wins us something more precious. In wisdom we gain respect, of both other and self.
Much of what I wrote above I learned through my journey. I found corroboration for these truths in the story told in this week's parsha of Vayishlach. Early in the reading we read of the dramatic rendezvous between Yaakov and Esav, twins who could not have been more polar. Yaakov had great fear that Esav would kill him over the stolen birthright. Esav made known years earlier that he planned to kill Yaakov after his parents died. Yaakov prepared himself for every eventuality including war. In the end the meeting between the brothers proved healing and peaceful. More than cordial, Esav and Yaakov embraced and kissed. It was as if there was some metamorphosis here in their relationship. How did this reconciliation come about?
Why the change in Esav's heart.
The Torah gives us one clue. Before Yaakov met Esav, indeed the very night before, Yaakov had no sleep. And why, because he spent the night wrestling with an 'ish', a "person" until the dawn. In the words of the Torah
"And Yaakov was left alone. And an "ish" wrestled with him
until the dawn. And he saw that he could not overwhelm him
and he said "let me go for the dawn has come". And yaakov said.
"I will not send you until you bless me"...."
The story of Yaakov wrestling with the "ish" is one of the most compelling stories in the Torah. Who was the "ish"? Was he angel or human?, real or imagined? And what is the wrestling about? And why the blessing? And how does the night time struggle effect the outcome of Yaakov's rendevous with Esav?"
There are many interpretations to this story. No doubt the Torah left it ambiguous so we could find what we need to in the drama, for ourselves.
In keeping with the focus of the blog, "The Torah and the Self", I want to explore the story for what it has to say to us in the context of our life and journey.
Let make this personal.
We need first to understand Yaakov and his issues with Esav, and indeed with himself.
We know Yaakov and Esav were polar opposites. Though twins, they looked different. Yaakov was smooth, Esav hairy. As they grew, Esav became the outdoorsman and hunter. Yaakov was reclusive and studious. Esav was close to his father. Yaakov his mother. At first glance no two people could seem more disparate.
Yet is that really so? Were Yaakov and Esav totally other? I think not. Yaakov's name derived from the fact that when born he was holding the heel of his brother Esav. When Yaakov gets his father's blessings he is wearing the clothes of Esav and coming disguised in his identity. And the name Yaakov means heel. Whose heal? Esav's, because Yaakov was clutching it at birth. Esav's heel is Yaakov's name-identity!
No I think Esav and Yaakov had much more in common than we recognize. What separated Yaakov from Esav is that each developed a different talent. The strength of the one was the weakness of the other. In our youth we focus on developing our talents. We live out of the edges of ourselves. Yaakov had an Esav inside. But his focus was to cultivate his excellence. Yaakov denied the earthiness of Esav within inorder to become a genius in the world of the spiritual. Indeed when Yaakov has to meet up with Esav all those years later Yaakov is afraid not only of the distance between them but of the closeness. Yaakov had denied his earthy side through so much of his life. Even when he became wealthy and prosperous in the home of Lavan it is clear that he derived no pleasure from his new found bounty. Yaakov worked day and night,
even as we read in the reading of last week. He suffered in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer tending the sheep himself.
Yaakov's excellence was in realizing himself and his G-d through abstinence. He was the one who the Torah called a "yoshaiv ohalim", "a tent dweller", rather than someone who lived in comfort. Esav represented a different idea. His way to excellence(though never attained) was through the earth, through indulgence. Yaakov had that in himself too. If he did not he could not have claimed the blessings intended for Esav.
Yet Yaakov was afraid of the Esav in him, the part of himself that was like his brother. Yaakov prayed to G-d prior to his encounter with Esav "Save me please from my brother from Esav". Its not only Esav he fears, but his "brother".
And this is the meaning of Yaakov's encounter with the "ish". With whom was Yaakov wrestling. They way I see it Yaakov was engaged with his other self, the Esav within. Before Yaakov could come to terms with his brother in the flesh he had to come to terms with the 'brother' within himself. He had to confront what Carl Jung called his 'shadow'. Wrestling and hugging look very much the same to the outsider.
They reflect intimacy, one is an intimacy designed to subdue the other an intimacy to embrace. Yaakov's 'wrestling' was an intimate encounter with the ideas he had repressed. It is intimate. It feels threatening. It compels one to face aspects of self previously denied. In being intimate with the Esav within throught the long night Yaakov comes to see that he need not flee the earthiness within.
He can embrace it and utilize it too in realizing the good and the G-dly.
The result of Yaakov's intimacy with his shadow is that he is now whole and complete. He now can live accessing all of himself not only the part of himself that is purely of the spirit. He no longer has to be afraid of Esav and what he represents. He can embrace Esav and indeed he does since he need not fear the power of the earthy as threatening.
But there is also a negative consequence, at least as compared to Yaakov prior to now becoming whole and integrated. Before Yaakov, in his one dimensional lifestyle, could sprint. He had acknowledged no complexity to hold him back. After his encounter with the Esav within, his shadow, Yaakov now limps. He needs time to process the self he has become, one whole in containing both the spirit and the earth. This is the meaning of the wound Yaakov sustains in his upper thigh as a result of the struggle.
When Yaakov and Esav finally meet they can now achieve a real reconciliation. Yaakov is able to accept Esav and his talents even as he now accepts himself in his fullness.
And the Torah gives voice to my understanding of this powerful time of becoming in Yaakov's life when it tells us that after leaving Esav "And Yaakov came to Sukkot and there he built a house..." Yaakov, whom the Torah called "dweller of tents" now for the first time builds a house. Yaakov no longer needs to separate from the world of the material. He can embrace it as part of who he is in hisi service to G-d and man. And soon after the Torah tells us "And Yaakov came 'shalem', whole, to the city of Shechem..." For the first time, now that he has faced his shadow Yaakov is whole, complete,integrated, wise!
Integration, becoming whole, is the work of a lifetime. It happens bit by bit. Early in our life we are so busy trying to develop our gifts and the parts of our self we like that we virtually deny anything other as threatening. Yet as we mature we discover that our life is not about getting rid of our less interesting or flattering side, but rather about bringing it into the light so it may live side by side with the part of ourselves we have celebrated and endorsed.
What parts of me do I need to wrestle/embrace to become whole? What parts of you do you need to bring out of the shadow and into the light?
In the end, talent is not enough. Our life's journey is about attaining wisdom. Wisdom is always found in the center; not on the edges.
We are wise when we become balanced, and whole, and fully ourselves!