Past, Present, Future
December 4, 2020
By Anya Weinrieb

In the time of a pandemic, humanitarian crises, and stressful elections, I’ve often been thinking about life before 2020. For me, life was filled with hanging out with friends, traveling to conventions for my Jewish youth group, and thriving in school. I felt content, happy, and normal.

Today, I’m scared of hanging out with friends due to the fear of getting my family or myself sick.

Conventions for my youth group have been canceled for the rest of the year, and school has never been more stressful. Who could have thought life would change so abruptly? We are nearing the end of the year and although I am the same person as I was last year, I feel different.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob meets his brother, Esau, where they embrace each other’s company and later go their separate ways peacefully. Jacob then ventures on and finds his way to Luz in the land of Canaan. On Jacob’s way back, G-d appeared to Jacob and said, “Jacob is your name; but Jacob are you called no more, for Israel is your name!”  What stuck out to me the most about Jacob’s name change to Israel, was how the Torah referred to him for the remainder of the portion, that he was only called Israel when he began his journey again and moved forward past the tower of Eder.

Same person, different names, different personas. I found Jacob to be a symbol for the past and memories, and juxtaposed is Israel, a symbol for the future and uncertainty. I related to this part of Vayishlach in reference to the changes in my life from 2019 to 2020. During quarantine in March, my family and I re-watched every Star Wars movie. Something I took away from these movies that helped me through this time of uncertainty and relates to the symbolism of Jacob’s name change was a teaching from Jedi Master Yoda, “Aim for skies but be mindful of the present.”

Our nation, and the world, has been living in the future hoping to move past this pandemic and all of the tragedies of this year and in so doing we strive to be Israel, not Jacob.

However, I feel we need to be Jacob before we become Israel. From each monumental moment this year, we must learn from our mistakes and educate ourselves on what went wrong in order to better ourselves and truly move forward. We cannot keep living in the future nor the past, we must live in the present. I hope by keeping these thoughts in mind, it brings ease and understanding to the unprecedented future.

Anya Weinrieb is the Israeli Affairs Vice President of Tzafon USY and is a Junior at Williamsville South High School.

Past, Present, Future - Jewish thought of the week graphic