ספר תורה. אילוסטרציה
ספר תורה. אילוסטרציהצילום: iStock

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, the Torah tells us that after Yaakov’s struggle with Esav’s angel, “the sun rose upon him” (Genesis 32:32). This simple statement harbors deep meaning, symbolizing a new dawn for Yaakov – a symbolic rebirth after a night of intense spiritual struggle.

From the words of the Sages, we draw insights into the relationship between Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues. One prominent story appears at the end of Tractate Makkot (24b). Rabbi Akiva lived during the destruction of the Second Temple and the subsequent exile – a period of profound despair, one of the darkest chapters in Jewish history. The Jewish people felt oppressed, hopeless, and at times, devoid of any hope.

Rabbi Akiva took it upon himself to uplift his colleagues’ spirit. In the Gemara in Tractate Makkot, we encounter an episode where the Sages see a fox roaming the place where the Holy of Holies once stood. They break down in tears until Rabbi Akiva, who was present and saw the fox emerge, comforts his colleagues and explains that this sight is a sign of good tidings – just as the prophecy of foxes passing through this place שועלים הילכו בו, was fulfilled, so too will the prophecies of redemption be fulfilled.

The Talmud recounts that there were those who called for a decree forbidding marriage and bearing children during this difficult period of oppression, claiming it would be better for the descendants of Abraham to perish rather than suffer cruel anguish. But the Gemara objected to this idea. Nevertheless, it is clear that the general atmosphere was one of profound melancholy.

When Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues went out together with Rabban Gamliel to the market of Emmaus to obtain meat for the wedding feast of Rabban Gamliel’s son, it is possible that Rabban Gamliel, seeing the upcoming nuptials, was immersed in feelings of futility. It is reasonable to assume that he doubted the purpose of his son’s marriage and contemplated whether his grandchildren would be able to withstand the Roman persecution.

Rabbi Akiva, realizing the wedding could become a source of despair and sorrow, sought to restore a sense of hope and optimism among his colleagues by invoking the principle of "ma'aseh avot siman labanim" – the experiences of the forefathers portend the fate of the children.

He refers back to the story of Yaakov in Parshat Vayeitzei. Yaakov, fleeing from his murderous brother, reaches the depth of distress – he is left with nothing. Figuratively and literally, the sun has set on our forefather Yaakov. He descends into darkness- exiled to the house of Laban, where he is met with deception and exploitation.

But what happens next? Yaakov insists on persevering. He refuses to surrender. He remains steadfast and upright. After the prolonged exile, he emerges unscathed – whole in body, soul, and spirit.

(ויבא יעקב שלם – אמר רב, שלם בגופו, שלם בממונו, שלם בתורתו. (שבת ל"ג

Yaakov came 'shalem' (whole). Rav said: Whole in his body, whole in his money, whole in his Torah. (Talmud Shabbat 33b )

Rabbi Akiva’s message, seeking to instill hope among his colleagues, was clear: “Do not succumb to despair. The experiences of our ancestors reflect our own fate. Just as the sun has set upon Yaakov only to rise again, so too exile and darkness will not prevail forever. Redemption will surely follow

נֵצַח יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יְשַׁקֵּר (שמואל א’ ט”ו , כ”ט)

"The eternity of Israel will not lie" (Samuel I 15:29).

Our suffering will come to an end. The sun that set upon us at the time of destruction will shine again. As a nation, we have shown exceptional resilience, surviving as a people for thousands of years despite persecution. We are the only nation enduring this which has endured such a long and dreadful period, but we shall overcome. Just as our ancestors persevered, so shall we restore our wholeness – in body, possessions, and spirit.

Relevance for Today’s Challenges

The resilience demonstrated by Yaakov and the eternal hope of the Jewish people offers a powerful message. As we face challenges, we should draw strength from their example, reminding ourselves that even in the darkest times, there is always hope for renewal. Just as Yaakov overcame adversity and emerged stronger, so too can we find the strength and resilience to cope with our struggles. Let us remember the sun will rise again and that we have the power to build a better future for ourselves and the people of Israel.

On Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach, November 29, 1947, a fateful UN vote took place on the proposed establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Until the last moment, there was tremendous anxiety that the opposing nations would thwart this. On the 11th of the month, the Rabbis published a call to increase prayer, and masses prayed at the British-controlled Kotel HaMaaravi / Western Wall that Friday.

The vote was postponed by a day at France's request and took place Saturday midnight. 33 nations voted in favor, 13 against, and ten abstained. The masses of the ‘Yishuv’ Jewish people burst out in joy and danced in the streets. The Rishon Lezion, Chief Rabbi Uziel declared, "the dawn of Israel's redemption has arrived!" and implored not to reconcile with the proposition that Jerusalem be outside the Jewish state.

The US subsequently retracted its support for partition, but Chief Rabbi Herzog encouraged the nation to have faith and to consider that this was redemption happening "gradually." קמעה קמעה

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook told of his personal difficulty in rejoicing that night, as "they have divided my land," giving up parts of our homeland. Yet, together with/ With Rabbi Charlap, the two sages determined this was G-d’s wondrous salvation that we were witnessing in our eyes, despite the hardships.

The stories of Yaakov Rabbi Akiva and the UN vote stand as historic examples that resilience and faith can lead to revival even from out of the greatest darkness. They remind us that even in hard times, there is always hope, נצח ישראל "The eternity of Israel will not lie" (Samuel I 15:29).

Let us pray that we merit to feel: the sun rise and the coming of redemption.