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    The duality of Jewish life – Vayyetzei

    The two bands of angels, by James Tissot

    The sidra ends with the words, “And he (Jacob) called the name of that place Machanayim” (Gen. 33:3). The name means “a double camp”.

    Rashi’s explanation of the name is that two bands of angels met there: the angels of the Diaspora who had accompanied Jacob until now, and the angels of the Holy Land.

    Some of the other commentators see it as the meeting place of two worlds, the world of the angels and the world of human beings.

    The Rashi view hints at the duality that makes up Jewish life – the Diaspora and the Land of Israel. Each of the two centres has its own nature and essence. Each one needs the other.

    David Ben Gurion, for his part, was adamant that Israel was the only place to be a Jew and that the Diaspora meant the kiss of death to Jewish life and tradition.

    Actually there are places in the Diaspora where Judaism is flourishing and places in Israel where it is threadbare, and the best approach is to see the two centres as partners that can and must fructify each other.

    The second explanation of the name also asserts that there are two centres, one being heaven and the other the earth.

    If we look for a lesson for day to day human life it is that there is God in each place, and there is a constant challenge to bring God down to earth to accompany His human creatures on all their paths, with another challenge to elevate human beings and let them taste the blessings of spirituality.

    In the sages’ view, the Grace After Meals suggests that the unique moment to attain this height is on Shabbat, which is me-ein olam ha-ba – a foretaste of heaven, and heaven is yom shekullo Shabbat, the day which is an unending Sabbath.

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