And Ya'akov (Jacob) was left alone. Then some man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he did not defeat Ya'akov, he struck Ya'akov's hip socket, so that his hip was dislocated while wrestling with him. The man said, "Let me go, because it's daybreak." But Ya'akov replied, "I won't let you go unless you bless me." The man asked, "What is your name?" and he answered, "Ya'akov." Then the man said, "From now on, you will no longer be called Ya'akov, but Isra'el; because you have shown your strength to both God and men and have prevailed." Ya'akov asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he answered, "Why are you asking about my name?" and blessed him there. (Bereshit / Genesis 32:25-30 [English 32:24-29] CJB)
I was thinking the other day about traditional Jewish music and its trademark minor key. There is something about the Jewish minor key that is special. Minor key music is generally thought of as sad, and much of Jewish minor key music is indeed sad. But there is more to it than that. These haunting melodies tend to have threads of hope woven in. However dim the light at the end of the tunnel might be, the darkness is never completely dark. No matter how grave the situation, there is always hope. The best way to describe this unique combination is bittersweet. In fact, bittersweet doesn't only describe Jewish music, but the whole Jewish experience.
The bittersweet Jewish experience isn't only evident in the dark times; it is perhaps more so in the good times. For it seems that Jewish achievement and victory tends to come at a high price.
Jacob, in this week's Torah portion, came to understand the meaning of bittersweet. Destined for great blessing and to be the one through whom the nation promised to Abraham would be named, he came into his greatness through a most intimate encounter with God - a wrestling match. But God blessed him through this most unusual encounter - unusual and painful. God changed his name to Israel, and left him with a limp.
While Jacob's specific experience was unique, this is the history of the Jewish people. His grandfather Abraham was promised great blessing, but he first had to leave home and family. Joseph was destined to save his family from starvation, but had to endure years in a dungeon first. The nation Israel was powerfully rescued from slavery, but others had to die in the process, not to mention all the trials they had to endure. David was called to be king, but spent many years living in caves running due to his predecessor's jealousy. The state of Israel is a modern miracle, but emerged through one of history's greatest tragedies, the Holocaust.
So it should be of no surprise that the victory won by Israel's Messiah would be the most bittersweet of them all. Salvation was accomplished through a torturous and shameful death on a Roman cross. Yet through this most bitter of experiences, life abundant and forever is now available to all who put their trust in him.
And for those who put their trust in him, sometimes I think that we expect that Yeshua took away all the bitter and left us with only the sweet. But that doesn't jive with the real-life experiences of his followers. Having been made God's children through the bittersweet victory of the Messiah, our lives now closely resemble the bittersweet lives of the faithful who have gone before. Because of Yeshua we are forgiven our sins and know God. We have been enlisted to represent him in the world, furthering his mission of salvation to all nations. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that we are therefore immune to life's difficulties. Far from it! Yeshua told us to expect trouble. Listen to how these well-known words sound in a Jewish-oriented version of the New Covenant (New Testament) Writings. Yeshua said,
I have said these things to you so that, united with me, you may have shalom (peace). In the world, you have tsuris (trouble). But be brave! I have conquered the world! (John 16:33; CJB [words in parenthesis added for clarity])
Can't you hear the Jewish music in the background?
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is this rendition of "Hatikvah" (The Hope), the national anthem of Israel, by legendary Israeli violist Ivry Gitlis and chamber orchestra from a concert in Baden-Baden, Germany, May 2008 (2 min., 51 sec.):