Politics & Parsha: Vayishlach 5771

Posted on November 19, 2010 In Archives

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

To learn about IPA staff joining your community as guest lecturers, please email howieb@ou.org.

Losing is Everything

“A little bit of crow,” — Dan Bartlett, when asked what would be on the president’s menu for the first lunch between then president George W. Bush and Speaker-of –the-House-presumptive Nancy Pelosi after the 2006 midterm elections where the Democrats recaptured the House

And that’s something that — now, I’m not recommending for every future President that they take a shellacking like they — like I did last night. (Laughter.) I’m sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons. – President Barack Obama, November 3, 2010, after the midterm elections where Republicans recaptured the House

This week we read the most famous battle in the Bible, leastaways until that whole David & Goliath match-up. Jacob, his diplomacy seemingly a failure, prays for salvation, and simultaneously takes steps to wage war, including dividing his family into two camps, to increase bookmaking odds on surviving an assault by Esau’s armed camp.

All of this almost comes to naught when Jacob makes a rookie tactical error. He is alone and isolated on the far side of the river from his family. Between he and they is an Angel of G-d who challenges him to battle.

Jacob fights. He wins. Not without the Angel striking a telling blow, causing Jacob a lifelong limp, and teaching us that victory always has a price. But in the end, the Angel is beaten. He asks for parley; asks to be released back to his master.

Jacob holds most of the cards here. But he acts with grace – and probably – wisdom. That is, he gives his opponent some quarter. By doing so, he leaves him his dignity. That decision will reverberate across Jewish history, over continents, oceans, and centuries.

Some, in ways we can imagine. But also, I think in ways we think less about than we should. Both combatants live to fight on. Neither Jacob’s victory – nor the angel’s defeat – was complete.

Jacob’s victory is, in the end confirmed by the Angel himself as he blesses Jacob. He is only blessed after he agrees to release him heavenward.

Therein lies the lesson. In war, in statecraft, political campaigns, and in “regular” life – work, school, home and play, there are times we win & times we lose.

How we let others lose – whether utter defeat or some salvage of dignity – goes a long way in determining whether than opponent is ever an ally, that enemy ever a friend.

How we lose – whether we are graceful in conceding defeat for a well played strategy, or whether we are sore losers, immediately plotting revenge and rematch says much about us.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.