Between Achilles and Yakov

Years ago when I left yeshiva and returned to the university it took that as a an opportunity to rethink many of classics that I had the fortune of reading during my college experience. It is always so interesting to see the parallels between the great works of Westerns Literature and the Torah. With this in mind I have been thinking about Homer’s Iliad this last week. There we meet the hero, Achilles, who is the son of the mortal Peleus and the Nereid Thetis. His mother attempted unsuccessfully to make her son immortal. Thetis held the young Achilles by the heel and dipped him in  the river Styx; everything the sacred waters touched became invulnerable,  but the heel where there was a hatzitzah remained dry and therefore unprotected. In the end of the story Paris ,aided by Apollo, mortally wounded Achilles in the heel with an arrow.

I believe that there is an interesting parallel between Achilles and our the hero from this weeks Torah portion Yakov. We see that Yakov who is left alone from the rest of his family meets his match in an all night struggle with an angel of God. Mortal verses divine locked all night long until the angel finds Yakov’s one vulnerable spot. Offering to bless Yakov and to change his name to Israel the angel bargains his way out of the dead lock.

While the similarity between these two heroes is interesting, the difference between the Iliad and the Torah is much more telling. Achilles dies when he is forced to realize that his is not totally divine. In contrast, Yakov achieves greatness in realizing his limitation. Yakov’s Achilles heel is that he has been running his whole life. Finally with a limp he can settle down and start building a nation. Being in touch with our vulnerability keeps us humble and more in touch with our humanity.


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