Trials and Transformations
December 6, 2019
By Dr. Iris Danziger

These words of wisdom were shared at the 116th Annual Celebration and Meeting of the Buffalo Jewish Federation at the Northland Workforce Training Center:

Rabbi Yossi Goldman would ask his students this question:

“If two people are on a ladder, one at the top and one at the bottom, who is higher?” The students thought this question was pretty easy to answer.  But then the wise teacher would explain that they were not really capable of judging who was higher or lower until they fist ascertained in which direction each was headed.

One reason the figures in the Torah are so compelling is that they are not the epitome of perfection; in fact they often struggle with the human condition. No individual in the bible embodies this dichotomy more than Jacob.

Even before he is born Jacob is struggling with his twin brother Esau. Jacob cannot seem to get Esau out of the way. Through humiliation and deceit Jacob will finally win the birthright and Isaac’s blessing. Jacob so angers Esau that Jacob, fearing for his life, will have to run away.

He travels alone, with little, aware of the stone cold realities of his situation. When darkness comes unexpectedly he dreams of angels climbing up and down a ladder.

He travels down to his uncle Laban, a controlling, self-serving and manipulative man. Through humiliation and deceit Laban will take advantage of Jacob.

Jacob will finally have enough of Laban and will flee in the opposite direction, back home, toward Esau.  Again, he is fearful of Esau and the unresolved anger. Again, he experiences a dream, this dream filled with struggle. This time, in his dream, he finds himself in mortal combat with angels, G-d and some would say himself.

At first glance you might say Jacob’s life has come full circle. But that would suggest that where Jacob started as a person, and where he ends is the same. Instead, the contrary is true,

Jacob has come a long way, he has examined his values and he is ready to set his relationships on earth right. You could say he is in fact moving physically and spiritually up the ladder. He is so transformed by his struggle to improve he is given the name Israel, a name that will reflect his better self.

Jacobs life recounted in these few weeks parshaot shows us how transformation is a process. When we understand where we have been and where we are, we can better see where we want to go. Just as we see Jacob’s stepwise ascent transforms him into Israel, it inspires us as a community, to come together as one, raise each other up, and transform into our better selves, the people Israel.

Dr. Iris Danziger is a local Otolaryngologist and a Board Member of both Temple Beth Tzedek and the Buffalo Jewish Federation.

Trials and Transformations - Jewish thought of the week graphic