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Conflict and Balance

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

From the womb, Jacob was in conflict. It seems this was his destiny. Forced by his mother to sneak the birthright, living with an uncle who tries to cheat him constantly for 14 years, and on and on, Jacob's conflicts never seem to end. All he wants is peace, yet conflicts befall him at every turn.

Sometimes our lives have so many trials and tribulations we feel the Almighty is unhappy with us. But trying to resolve conflicts is how we grow, and even great and holy people lived lives of conflict.

Jacob especially, of the three patriarchs, was a magnet for conflicts. This has to do with the nature of his personality. The sages say that "The signet ring of the Almighty is Truth." Just like a signet ring is pushed into softened wax to create an impression, so too, Truth brings together the ideal with the reality to create something in the middle. Jacob, too, was a symbol of Truth.

Truth is one of the pillars of the universe. It is only with truth that we are able to plow through life's difficulties and navigate a harmonious path. Truth teaches us how to resolve conflicts, and how to navigate through moral issues.

Someone recently asked me a question about a monetary dispute he was having with a friend. He wanted to know the legal answer. I explained to him that the issue at hand was not a legal answer, but the essence of the relationship. It doesn't matter who's "right" in this case; all that matters is how you feel about each other. If you approach your plaintiff as a friend, the conflict will be resolved.

Sometimes a legal point is the answer to a conflict, and sometimes it isn't. The Torah is a guidebook to help us decide what approach to use for what problem at what time.

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The Torah, and especially the Talmud, are studied in a very distinct way. People study the information and then pose apparent contradictions; the resolution of these contradictions leads to a deeper understanding, or a "truer" understanding of the text. Sixty volumes of the Talmud are filled with comparing and contrasting principles, cases, and laws in order to arrive at the depth of the Torah's wisdom.

Jacob is the man of the Torah, described as the "dweller in tents" (Genesis 25:27). He went to study with Shem, Noah's son, who had an academy of ethical monotheism. Jacob's personality is built for wisdom and meaning; it's what comes naturally to him.

So why can't Jacob live a life of peace and tranquility, so he can ponder the universe, and build philosophical edifices of morality? Because true wisdom comes from resolving conflicts. This is where theoretical information becomes knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

You can read lots of marriage books, but until you are actually married, the information is only theoretical. You don't understand the real challenges and don't know how to apply the information you have.

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We all want harmony and balance. Yet how much difficulty and conflict are we willing to endure to achieve it? Resolving conflicts, not avoiding or ignoring them, is the key to creating true harmony.

Sure, it would be easy to go on a mountaintop and meditate, and ignore all the problems of the world. You can achieve peace and nirvana. But the problems still exist. Once you've gotten some enlightenment from the mountaintop, come on down and try to apply your insights to see if they really hold water.

When you make a stool, as you put the first two legs on, you see it will not stand. It is the third leg that creates the balance. Jacob was the third patriarch, the man of balance.

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Spiritual Exercise:

This week look at your most obvious challenges and ask yourself if you're trying to avoid and ignore them, or if you're dealing with them. Take one small step. Do one thing to help resolve one of your conflicts, rather than just suffering with it.

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