One afternoon a man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house.
His three children were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.
The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house.
Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess.
A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.
In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.
In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, nash was all over the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife.
He was worried she may be ill, or that something serious had happened. He found her lounging in the bedroom, still in pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, "What happened here today?"
She again smiled and answered, "You know everyday when you come home from work and ask me what in the world did I do today?"
"Yes," was his incredulous reply.
She answered, "Well, today I didn't do it."
"Jacob Arrived whole to the city of Shechem (1), " the Bible states in this week's portion (Vayishlach).
What a gift it is -- to be whole, complete. To feel wholesome, unified, integrated, holistic. How many of us can claim to be truly whole?
How did this happen? What was the secret behind Jacob's "wholeness" at this time? He has been married for years, he had many children; he was a successful man. What transpired at this moment which conferred upon Jacob this condition of "wholeness" (2)?
In fact, nowhere does the Bible describe a human being in such a way – that he or she was "shalam," whole (3). It is an extraordinary description for a human being, who from the genesis of time, is characterized by duality, fragmentation and conflict. Apparently, something extraordinary occurred in the life in Jacob, which made him whole precisely at this juncture of his life.
There is no escaping the juxtaposition between this statement – "Jacob arrived whole" - and the preceding scene in the Bible. In the previous scene, Jacob finally made peace with his brother Esau. After decades of estrangement, hostility and ire, and the fear of outright war between the brothers, they have at last reconciled, even if they would not live together.
It is a profound development. Twenty- two years earlier Esau vowed to murder Jacob, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother (4).” Now, as they are about to meet again, we stand posed anticipating a harsh encounter. Upon hearing that Esau is approaching him with a force of four hundred men, Jacob is “very afraid and distressed (5).” He devises an elaborate defense, including a strategy for war.
When Esau finally appears, something very different transpires. The Bible’s description of the meeting is unforgettable (6):
“Esau ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and kissed him. And they wept.” There is no anger, animosity or threat of revenge. Peace has at last descended upon the Abrahamic family.
And the next scene in the Torah reads like this: "Jacob arrived whole…"
The message seems clear: You may be a wonderful, accomplished and successful individual. But as long as you are not on speaking terms with your own sibling, you will not be whole. As long as a family is torn by mistrust and conflict, none of its members can be whole. We cannot make ourselves whole, nor can we mend the world, if we lack the courage and vulnerability to create peace within our own families. The family is the nucleus of civilization.
George Burns once quipped, that Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. It is often easier to get along with the "whole world," than with your own family. But it is only through family harmony that we can achieve genuine wholeness in our lives.
1) Genesis 33:18. 2) See Rashi and other commentators for their perspectives on this novel biblical expression about Jacob's condition. 3) Divrei Hayamim 2, 15:17 does use this term, but in a different context. 4) Genesis 27:41 5) Ibid. 32:8. 6) Ibid. 33:4.