Fight the Power

"I will not let go."

A man wrestled with Jacob until daybreak. 

When the man saw that he had not prevailed against Jacob, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 

Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’

But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’

So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’

And he said, ‘Jacob.’

The man said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have wrestled with God.’

— Genesis 32

The Power is capable of obliterating you. Its combat superiority over you is absolute.

And once the Power obliterates you, will anyone speak in your defense? After all, you were the one foolish enough to fight the Power.

But whether you fight or not, the Power will scatter your peaceful assembly in every direction, confusing your language and turning brother against brother, sister against sister, father against son.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will vow to steal a region’s worth of land. It will list the surrounding tribes it finds inferior. It will declare occupied real estate now belongs to colonial invaders, then foreclose with overwhelming force.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will hand down tablets full of laws that immediately segment humans into underclasses, consistently denigrating women, LGBT people, and minority populations.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will butcher an entire city, then assassinate the only witness, a refugee mother fleeing the carnage with her daughters.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will exile an immigrant and her son, casting them south across the desert with only a loaf of bread and can of water.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will watch you while concealing its motives behind dark storm clouds, militarized bootlickers, and well-compensated zealots.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will spread slaughter through the Middle East for another century.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will refuse to stop the flooding ocean from swallowing all of us.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will hoard war spoils in a monument to itself.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will gripe about not being praised for standing idly during the plague.

Whether you fight or not, the Power will invent violence, then blame you for it.

Whether you fight or not, the Power is already fighting you. It says, “a man wrestled with Jacob,” not the other way around.

The Power is allowed to do all this because it is the Power. That is the deal. The deal was made by the Power, and the Power reserves the right to alter it.

If you fight back, it will cost you something. It gave Jacob a limp. Maybe it costs time. Maybe money. Maybe comfort. Maybe relationships that used to be of value.

You might also be changed for the better. Jacob acquired an upgraded identity. Maybe you too.

If you fight back, you might even change the Power for the better. The Power is afraid to keep fighting you “until daybreak,” when it is without the cover of midnight, the original Fox News.

The only certain outcome of fighting back is that you will have fought back.

So fight the Power.

— Eugène Delacroix

If you’d like a religious moral (the one mentioned at the end of this week’s Vacation Bible School episode on Abraham’s family) from the story of Jacob wrestling God, let’s turn to Rabbi Elliott Dorff:

If we do not wrestle with questions, Judaism can never be for us what the Shema asks of us – that our love of God, and, by extension, of the entire Jewish tradition, be ‘with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might’ (Deuteronomy 6:5).

We should not be intellectually schizophrenic, thinking about everything else in life with a sharp critical eye but somehow fail to do that when it comes to our Jewish convictions.

We instead need to integrate our Judaism into our entire world view – in how we think about morality, science, health care, history, economics, art, and everything else as well as distinctly Jewish topics like God, the People Israel, and the commandments.

We must trust Judaism enough to throw our strongest intellectual punches at it and then let it punch us back. If we do not do that, we do not really have emunah, the kind of faith in God and the Jewish tradition that can withstand challenges of all sorts, including intellectual ones.

If God has since become great, then God can endure a tantrum, take a joke, consider a rebuttal, and even feel remorse.

Even when God was at His worst, God could admit His mistakes. Humbled by Noah’s feat, He swore off global extermination, leaving Himself the rainbow as a reminder to start controlling His temper. He let Abraham bargain with Him for the safety of at least a few Sodomites. He realized He actually didn’t like the idea of Abraham murdering Isaac, so He intervened (then made up some stuff about this all being a, uh, test). When He found Himself in an awkward scrap with Jacob, then had no real explanation for such a bizarre event, He at least blessed Jacob with a badass name.

God is busy running a multiverse. God has better things to do than pout because someone calls Him by the wrong name, screams at Him in grief, objects to His alleged followers tear-gassing people, asks Him to explain why the Bible says the sun orbits the earth, or puts Him in an ankle lock for six hours.

God is a big Boy. We do not need to coddle God.

VBS’ June tithe (at least $1 for each Apple Podcasts rating) will go to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, currently organizing legal aid for Americans protesting police brutality.