Friday, December 5, 2014

Name It

This week's Torah portion contains the famous episode of Jacob wrestling with--well, it's not clear what, exactly, he was wrestling with. An angel? A man? Something. Anyway, when the fight is more or less over, Jacob asks for the other's name, and the reply is "Why are you asking for my name?" And, Jacob never gets his answer.

But, Rabbi Y.L. Hasman* says that, actually, Jacob did get an answer. That, the angel's name is, in fact, "Why are you asking for my name?"

* This is in Itturei Torah, vol II page. 306 for anyone who wants to see the original

You see, according to many traditions, this man/angel/other was actually the yetzer ra, the inclination to do evil, or the sitra achra, the "other (dark) side" of human nature. Or, Satan*. Basically, this was evil incarnate. And, what he's telling Jacob is that the true name of evil is, "Why are you asking for my name?"

* Yes, Rabbinic tradition includes Satan, but he's nothing like the Satan of Christian tradition.

How does evil thrive? It thrives by people not being willing to deal with it. To look at it, understand it, and name it. By getting people to pay attention to something else, and deny that the evil is real, or important. What evil wants, more than anything, is to be anonymous and unrecognized. That's how it wins.

The first step in fighting any evil is to acknowledge that it's real, and that it needs fighting. When we see injustice, or oppression, or tragedy, we absolutely have to stand up and name it. We have to say that we don't accept it, and that it has no place in our world.

And, that we will fight it until the break of dawn, just like Jacob did, if we have to.

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