Lessons from a Night to Remember
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
When I left the house last night to go to a friend to watch the election results, I put my youngest to bed. ‘Daddy’ he said, ‘Are we going to have to leave the country? I don’t want to’. There was genuine fear in his voice, he fully understood the risk of what could happen if Corbyn got into power. I assured him that it wasn’t going to happen and that he should just get some sleep. However, I was not at all confident, even though the chances, according to the polls were slim – it still was a possibility.
We gathered at my friend’s house, all of us nervous, waiting for the exit poll which would reveal the pattern for the night. The feeling I had was unlike any other election in my lifetime, there was genuine fear in the room, and just like Yaacov of old in this week’s Parsha I felt this overwhelming need to daven – so I quickly opened up my sefaria app (was too nervous to say anything by heart!) and recited Tehilla 121.
‘A song for ascents. I shall raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help is from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to falter; Your Guardian will not slumber. Behold the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your Guardian; the Lord is your shadow; [He is] by your right hand. By day, the sun will not smite you, nor will the moon at night. The Lord will guard you from all evil; He will guard your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from now and to eternity.’
As I finished, the clock struck 10 and those glorious words came from Huw Edwards with the results of the poll – and in one second, K’heref ayin – months and months of fear and foreboding simply disappeared.
Yet, we have to understand that the problem did not disappear, throughout the night we heard Corbyn loyalists offer no apology for their policies or behaviour. The hatred for us will continue – let us be thankful it will not be in power.
Furthermore, we have to realise that Corbyn and co is only one of the dangers that we face as a people. This danger was external, one that needed the British electorate to come to our aid. Other challenges are internal and it is for us to address ourselves.
So what are these other challenges?
There is a fascinating idea from Rabbi Frand concerning a remarkable dialogue in this week’s Parsha during the struggle between Yaacov and the Angel which can answer that question.
‘And he (the angel) said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Yaacov) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Yaacov.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Yaacov, but Yisrael, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” And Jacob asked and said, “Now tell me your name,” and he said, “Why is it that you ask for my name?” And he blessed him there.
After being blessed with a new name, Yaakov turned the tables, and asked the Angel what his name was. The Angel responded, “Why are you asking me what my name is?”
This is a very strange dialogue, to say the least. The Angel’s response was not “I do not need to tell you my name” or “I am not allowed to tell you my name.” Nor was it “I do not have a name.” The Angel merely turned the tables and asked Yaakov, “How will you benefit from knowing my name?”
What is Yaacov’s question? He is saying, we have had a battle and I know that this will be an ongoing battle between the Jewish people and our enemies. Explain your essence to me. What are you all about? Let me know your ‘name.’
Yaakov was looking for the key to pass on to his children and grandchildren throughout the generations – information regarding how to deal with the archangel of Eisav in this ongoing struggle. “Tell me the nature of our fight,” Yaakov asked.
The Angel’s answer to this question was “it does not help to know my name, because I am not just one thing that you will have to conquer.”
The Angel alluded to the fact that throughout the generations he would be changing. Sometimes he would be Hellenism. Sometimes he would be Nazism. Sometimes he would be Communism. Sometimes Hedonism. All the tests and all the philosophies and all the battles that we have had to fight throughout the generations are embodied in this one Angel.
He could in fact not define his essence for Yaakov because the nature of his essence keeps changing. Sometimes it pushes us from one direction, sometimes it pushes us from the opposite direction. It is always a different fight.
Last night, at 10pm, we collectively felt the relief of the defeat of one of our enemies but we need to realise that we must be on constant guard for those that threaten harm to our bodies and our souls.
As Chanukah approaches we must be aware of the destructive potential of some of the value systems that pervade the western world which in many ways are antithetical to the Torah. Some of these may be unique to the 21st century and will test us in different ways than Corbyn and co do. They may be challenges we have not come across before, yet, as Yaacov warned us, we have to realise that every generation has its unique challenge – which has to be fought.
However, for now, let us thank Hashem as we celebrate another victory of our long history. Another enemy of the Jewish people has been defeated, it is Friday night tonight, so let us do what we have often done in history when we overcome our enemies.