In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. — Genesis 32:7
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” from Genesis 32:4—36:43.
Like most parents in the world, I have had to deal with schools being partially or fully closed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. When Israel entered a second lockdown in September, I found myself, once again, with four children at home who needed my help and attention. At the same time, I had a job to do, ensuring that the lifesaving work of The Fellowship continued at a time when the people of Israel needed us most.
Yet, whenever I began to feel completely overwhelmed by all the things that I had to do, I would stop, take a walk, and thank God for my blessings. I need to remember that while I need to do my best at parenting and working, I also need to let go of my fears and trust God will help me. After my walks, I always feel calmer and more connected to God, and as a result, I am a far better parent and more effective in my work.
In this week’s Torah reading we learn that Jacob experienced “great fear and distress” while anticipating a likely attack by his estranged brother Esau. Esau, who Jacob had not seen since tricking his father Isaac into blessing him instead, was on his way to meet Jacob with 400 men (Genesis 32:6). Jacob had every reason to fear an attack!
Let Go of Fears and Trust
Yet, surprisingly, just a few verses later we learn that “He [Jacob] spent the night there…” (Genesis 32:13). The Jewish sages explain that despite the terrible fear that gripped Jacob, he slept soundly that night. He had done what he could to protect his family and pacify Esau, but then, he let go of his fears and put his faith in God. This enabled Jacob to remain calm and at peace even while the potential for great danger lurked ahead.
It is human to experience feelings of fear, distress, and to feel overwhelmed at times in our lives. Even holy men like Jacob experienced these feelings. But then we always have the choice to let go of our fears. You can “cast your cares on the LORD” (Psalm 55:22) and have faith that He will help you.
And while we must put in the effort to do what we can to help ourselves, like Jacob did, we can remain calm knowing that God can do what we cannot. He is our Helper, our Protector, and our Savior.
How do you find calm and stay in faith when confronted with fear or stress?