Jacob sent lavish gifts to his brother Easu. He fought with an angel and was injured. He met his brother and the encounter was not as traumatic as he feared.
The Torah then tells us: “Jacob arrived in the city of Shechem, shalem or complete.” (Bereishit 33:18)
The Talmud, quoted by Rashi, homes in on this description of Jacob. It explains that completeness or wholeness can be understood on three distinct levels:
He was whole in his body, he was whole materially, and he was whole spiritually.
He was whole physically in that he had now recovered from being injured by the angel. He was whole materially as he been able to replenish his assets after giving away a lot to Esau. He was whole spiritually – his Torah perspective was intact – notwithstanding the two decades he had spent in the corrosive company of Laban.
The question is, why is the Torah making this point now? Didn’t Jacob have all these three qualities before his encounter with Esau? At the very beginning of the parasha, Jacob had not yet given up any wealth, he had not yet had to fight a battle, and he had survived his twenty-year stay in Haran.
Why does the Torah now say that he was shalem now? What has he gained that he didn’t have before?
The answer is that while Jacob may have had physical, material and spiritual assets, he wasn’t yet shalem.
Shlemut or completeness is a state is that we can only achieve through overcoming conflict and challenge. Jacob may have survived his encounter with Laban but he was not really complete until he had resolved his other conflicts.
Jacob’s fight with the angel represents his inner struggle on many fronts, on the way to becoming shalem or complete.
Israel today is now in an existential struggle with Hamas. The battle is challenging militarily. The battle is challenging ethically as we have to grapple with collateral damage and the release of prisoners in order to obtain the release of hostages. Not to speak of the enormous drain on Israel’s economy with 300,000 reservists having been called up. But we have seen from among the Jewish people, in Israel and around the world, an outpouring of love, support and unity that we rarely saw previously.
Our challenge is to grow from these tzarot. We profoundly yearn for this nightmare to end. We know that we need to recover physically, economically, and spiritually. We hope and pray that these challenges will enable us to achieve shlemut as a people in a way we never were before.