Jacob is finally going home. It’s been twenty years since he fled a brother swearing vengeance, and that same brother is approaching with 400 soldiers. Jacob must literally come face to face with his past as trickster, lier and thief. It is getting dark, and his entourage has made camp. Herds of animals, four wives, twelve children, riches, guards and servants. He calls for Rachel and Leah and his eldest sons. “Pick up stakes, move out across the river. Right now!” he commands. “Also, we must split up for safety into two groups. I am staying behind tonight, and will cross the river to meet you all in the morning.” As the boys leave to orchestrate the night crossing, Rachel and Leah linger. “Jacob, it’s the hour of the wolf and the ruffian. If you stay alone tonight who knows what will emerge from the night to consume you?” they whispered in fear. “I cannot keep you safe until I emerge from this darkness that weighs my spirit. I need to find some insight this night, I need to find…some strength. I know I cannot cross until I face….” his voice trailed. The women nodded, departing.
Perhaps this was the scene that preceded the Torah’s famous wrestling match. Jacob remained alone, and yet a man wrestled with him until the dawn was beginning to rise. The desperate wrestler displaced Jacob’s hip from his socket, but Jacob would not release his hold. Jacob will limp his whole life now. The mysterious stranger begs to be let go because dawn is rising (a river demon? an angel? his brother? himself?) “I won’t release you unless you bless me!” is Jake’s response. The man not only blesses him but renames him Yisrael, “wrestler with God” and so Jacob releases the man. He names the place of the struggle Pineal: face of God, and declares that his soul has been saved. He now is able to cross a river and find the road home, confront and enable reconciliation with his twin brother.
A song by Dave Wilcox, “Farthest Shore” puts into reality a need to be alone before crossing the rivers in our path. In this alone-ness we have the potential to find our values, our self. Jacob separates himself from all his possessions, his powerful sons, his defenses. Interestingly he fails to mention his daughter Dina in the list of things sent across. This dismissal, this lack, is mirrored in Dina’s being alone soon, and hurt, and then disappearing from this family. In this song, “Farthest Shore” the composer loses a home to fire. In this past year many on the Jersey and New York shore were similarly displaced from their possessions. Those I know found strength in family and community, in the aftermath of disaster.
Farthest Shore by David Wilcox
We were there in the wood by the water.
Left our pack up against the willow tree.
We dove right in keeping just what we were born with,
Our memories, knowledge and our dreams.
As I swam far away from our possessions,
I imagined they were gone forever more.
And for once I was glad that all I treasured
would still be with me as I reached the other shore
So let me dive into the water, leave behind all that I’ve worked for, except what I remember and believe.
And when I stand on the farthest shore, I will have all I need.
When the blaze turned our cabin into ashes,
where we slept warm now the sky lets in the rain
I found the strings and the frets and rusted latches,
but I will never hear that old guitar again.
These four walls are only in my memory,
these stone steps rise to nothing in the air
One last look and I’m headed to the river,
to wash my hands and try to say this prayer:
Let me dive into the water, leave behind all that I’ve worked for, except what I remember and believe.
And when I stand on the farthest shore, I will have all I need….