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Little by little

12/03/2020 10:50:04 AM


At my childhood synagogue, the Torah was read following the triennial cycle. This would mean that we’d read a third of each parsha every week, rotating which third of the parsha was read each year. Since this meant that the amount to read for each Aliyah is shorter, and with skilled older siblings, I didn’t even need to learn all of my Bar Mitzvah readings myself. As a novice Torah reader, I was content to only need to master a handful of verses. Though over the years, as I’ve become a much stronger reader, I regretted that I never learned the entire parsha. This past year, I finally had the opportunity to learn the entire thing. A past version of myself would have thought this feat insurmountable. Nowadays, I was able to prep in comparatively very little time. Where did this shift occur? When did I become a better Torah reader?

In this week’s portion, Vayishlach, Jacob prepares to confront his brother for the first time in twenty years. Last he heard, his brother wanted to kill him for stealing the blessing from their father. Filled with anxiety and fear, Jacob prepares for what he expects to be a tumultuous encounter. Yet before the actual meeting occurs, and during the height of drama in our narrative, Jacob is alone on the other side of the Jabbok river, and it is there that he wrestles with the angel and prevails. Seeking to bless Jacob, the angel asks for his name, and he replies “Jacob.” While seeming obvious, some commentators point out how radically different this Jacob is then the Jacob who stole the blessing from his brother. Before, when asked what his name was, he lied twice insinuating that he was his brother Esau. Now, we see a more mature Jacob, standing as his true self ready to receive a blessing. Where did this shift occur? When did Jacob become this more honest person?

In the great slog of life, it is often hard to appreciate our growth and how much we change from year to year, month to month, or even moment to moment. Not all of our learnings are “aha” moments where we can pinpoint the exact time when our understanding has deepened. Rather, we gradually work to improve ourselves each and every day and the accumulation of such work eventually hits a tipping point that we notice. When did I become a better Torah reader? When did Jacob become more honest? I don’t know. It makes me wonder in what ways we have grown but haven’t yet had the opportunity to appreciate. We are often hard on ourselves thinking that projects that require gradual effort aren’t getting done. But just because the change is incremental and doesn’t happen all at once, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, or that it’s not worth the effort. On the contrary, our portion reminds us that even if you don’t see the change on a daily basis it doesn’t mean that you are the same person you were in prior years, or even last week. Each day, we continue to grow, learn, and accumulate experiences and memories that help shape us into something new.  We owe it to ourselves to recognize that incremental growth and appreciate this positive aspect of our lives’ trajectories.

Shabbat Shalom

Sun, April 21 2024 13 Nisan 5784