The other night our son Yadid woke us up with his night terrors. He was hysterical and Adina and I could not figure out a way to console him. He was screaming and seemed horribly frightened. Adina and I were pretty sure he was not awake, but we just could not let him struggle there alone.
Reflecting on that image of my son struggling alone in the night, it is hard not see it in light of this week’s Torah portion when Jacob was attacked by an angel. Here in VaYishlach we read,
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him. And he said: ‘Let me go, for the day breaks.’ And he said: ‘I will not let you go, until you bless me.’ And he said unto him: ‘What is your name?’ And he said: ‘Jacob.’ And he said: ‘Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ Genesis 32:25-29
From our inception as the people of Israel, it seems that it is supposed to be tough to be a Jew. Or in the words of Rabbi Levi Lauer, ” Comfort is not a Jewish value”. So while fear, struggle, and discomfort might be good in that they will keep us vigilant and safe, too much is debilitating. Jacob is at once all alone and at the same time deeply connected to God. While in the case of Jacob, the experience of being by himself might have made him stronger, Adina and I could not just stand idly by and do nothing for our son.
We climbed into his bed to hold him and assure him that everything was going to be alright. We wanted to make it all better. We needed to do something to make sure that he did not get hurt physically or mentally.
So even with both of us there holding him in the bed, it seemed to us that nothing was working. At this point Yadid kept on saying, ” I am scared. I am scared.” And in a moment of inspiration Adina said to him,”Give me your ‘scared'”. Yadid handed me “something”. But his heart was still racing and teeth were still chattering. I said, ” You did not give it all to me, can I have the rest of your ‘scared’?” He handed me another “something”. And just like that he got calm. A moment later he was fast asleep.
Before we know it Yadid a five-year-old boy will grow up to be a young man. He will have to do his own bidding. He will have to find ways of struggling with his own angels by himself. I know that Yadid will not remember the experience of his night terrors, but some part of me wants him to remember that his mother and I are always here for him. (Why else do you think I am writing this blog?) I want him to remember that he has super powers. Can you imagine the capacity to get over your biggest fears like disposing a used tissue? But we know having this superpower would hamper his development because coping with fear is a life skill. We cannot prepare the path for our child, we can only prepare our child for the path. We know that in terms of his emotions, he needs to learn how to walk by himself before he will be able to run. And yes, along the way he will also have to learn to hobble with the scars of the ‘scares’ of life.