Shabbat is the day when we try to lay down our weary bodies from yet another tumultuous week.
But sometimes, we do not get that opportunity.
Two weekends ago, one of our sons informed us that a friend had been shot in the foot Friday evening during a terrorist attack, and then last weekend, on Friday afternoon, two people were murdered near another son’s yeshiva. Later, we would learn of the atrocities that occurred in Paris.
Many of us who do not follow the news on Shabbat were informed of the barbaric attacks in the French capital only once Shabbat was over.
I turned to my colleagues at Kol Yisrael right after Havdala to receive more information about the killing of the father and son near Otniel, and then I was updated on the Paris attacks.
The objective is not to compare the attacks. In general, I think many of us felt vulnerable last Saturday night. Evil seemed to be taking over, yet again. The wine and spices of Havdala were not enough to grapple with the extreme transition from the fragrance of the world to come, which we absorb over the course of each Shabbat, to the radically rude awakening in the moments that followed the conclusion of the day of rest.
On this Shabbat, let’s, first of all, pray that our world remains peaceful.
But as we observe Shabbat, we will read a weekly Torah portion, Vayetze, that is all but tranquil.
Jacob is on the run, forced out of the Jewish homeland, looking for a wife, but also escaping from a brother who feels cheated and wants blood.
The weekly portion begins with a pledge from God to Jacob that ultimately the land will belong to him and his descendants, and that even in the midst of his travels, he will be divinely protected.
It doesn’t mean that life will be easy. During the course of this week’s portion, Jacob is faced with immense challenges from a twotime father-in-law, both in the realm of business dealings and ideology.
Jacob’s perseverance is amazing. It pays off with the birth of the tribes who were to become the Children of Israel.
As the weekly portion concludes, Jacob is greeted, according to the 11th-century Biblical commentator Rashi, by the angels of the Land of Israel, who are to escort him back to his homeland. His mission abroad has been accomplished. The tumultuous, fiercely paced sequence of events shakes us from the tranquility of Shabbat, but gives us hope for the future.
Still, the road ahead remains filled with obstacles. In next week’s portion, Jacob will try his hand at rapprochement with his revenge-seeking brother: not only a brother, but a twin. Cautious moves will be taken to avoid further conflict.
Perhaps for the moment, they avoid the spilling of blood, but the centuries since have been filled with violence, persecution and savagery.
Sometimes it has been in the name of one theology, and sometimes in the name of another.
But if we thought that somehow the 21st century, with its smartphones, social media and immediate communication would be too advanced to tolerate seemingly archaic forms of behavior, we are repeatedly proved to be wrong, even during these very days. The utopian life symbolized in our observance of Shabbat seems so incredibly far removed from the other six days of the week, and even the 25 hours of safe haven are too often violated.
The ultimate hope that we must carry with us throughout the week are the promises of which we read in the Bible that ultimately we will prevail, and that there will be rest for the weary.
As we focus on the fragility of Shabbat, these very days of winter provide us with symbolic hope.
The story is told that Adam became frightened as the number of daylight hours became fewer and fewer, because he did not know the way of the newly created world. He thought the world was coming to an end.
However, at some point, the extent of daylight began increasing, and Adam was relieved, as he started to understand the process that was at hand. This story is associated with the upcoming Festival of Lights, Hanukkah.
I do not know if this story is true.
But we do know that we are currently living through the darkest days of the calendar. It has been getting darker earlier and earlier, and will continue even for a bit longer.
Yet, as Adam is said to have learned, we know the way of the world. We know that in a very short time, the sun will begin setting later, and after that, the sun will start rising earlier.
And then, hopefully in the not so distant future, the refuge we seek on Shabbat, which always lasts about 25 hours no matter what time of year, will be felt all week and for all time.The writer is a correspondent and anchor for Kol Yisrael’s English News Radio in Jerusalem.