Thursday, November 14, 2013

True Grit

Parshat VaYishlach

By Greg Marzullo

Jacob's wrestle with the strange man in this week's portion of Genesis reminds me of a story told by my guru Amma Amritanandamayi. As recounted in the book Lead Us to the Light, she says:

"A person was very thirsty, but no water was available. Someone told her, 'Dig here and you will soon find water.' So she dug in that place for a little while, but didn't find any water. She started digging at another spot but didn't find any water there either. She moved to yet another spot and dug again, but there was no water. Thus she kept digging in many different places but to no avail. She finally collapsed from exhaustion.

A passerby saw her lying there and asked what had happened. She replied, 'I am exhausted from digging everywhere for water. Now I am suffering more than before, because, at first, I was only thirsty, but now I have wasted all my strength digging and am also exhausted.'

The passerby said, 'If you had only had a little patience and had continued digging deeper in just one spot, you would have found more than enough water right at the beginning. Instead, you dug a little in many different places and all you got was disappointment!'"

It's through dedication to our spiritual devotion that we actually receive the blessings of God. All too often we give up quickly, because we erroneously believe that the spiritual life should be something simple, like purchasing a cabbage at the grocery store.

In this week's portion, the spiritual seeker Jacob stays in the fray, constantly battling with this strong man, until finally the stranger has to injure the patriarch's hip joint, dislocating the leg from the socket, in order to gain the upper hand. Still Jacob hangs in there, saying he will not let go of the stranger until he blesses him, and from this tenacious demand, Jacob receives his new title, thereby washing away the stain of his given name (the follower/the supplanter) and attaining the new moniker of "Israel."

Our relationship with God is not an easy one. Our will is in constant rebellion against that of Adonai, and yet, if we can train our will to hang on to God instead of fighting Him, transformation will occur.

I had a friend in college with whom I shared Erev Shabbat every weekend. I was 20 at the time, and she was well into her later 40s. I remember one night she said to me, "When we ask Ha-Shem to remake us, He doesn't just sit us down and give us a mani-pedi. He tears out an eye, rends us limb from limb and totally changes us."

The process of transformation isn't won without casualties, but as the great Hindu avatar and god Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "By sustained effort, one comes to the end of sorrow" (18:36, trans. Eknath Easwaran).

The only real sorrow, of course, is the false notion that we're not united with God at all times. All we have to do is realize that we're constantly in Adonai's grip, especially when He is in ours. 

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