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What’s with the Rocks?: How to Overcome Obstacles: Lessons from Parshat Yetzei. פרשת ויצא

11/28/2022 07:06:21 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin

This week’s Torah portion tells us about the journey of Jacob, the last patriarch who gave us all our name of Israel.  But the starring role goes to another figure we encounter.  A rock.  That’s right, a rock. 

Seventeen-year-old Jacob, fleeing to his mother’s family hold from the murderous rage of his brother Esau arrives at a clearing in the desert atop a mountain.  Without even bedding or supplies, he takes a stone for a pillow.  He dreams of angels ascending and descending and hears G-d’s voice promising to be with him through all adversity and returning him home again.

In the morning, Jacob anoints the stone with a bit of oil and declares, “G-d was in this place and I knew it not.”  

The Torah just taught us the first lesson about rocks- or, as we know them, obstacles. And the lesson? that obstacles can be ladders.  When we recognize something that prevents us from achieving our spiritual goals- and in Judaism, everything is a spiritual goal- we are called on to seize our power, to ascend, to grow wings.  What will it take, we say to ourselves, to overcome this obstacle?  And that still small Voice inside of us tells us:  you got this.  And we do.  The more we respond to the stones in our path, the obstacles we face, by listening to that Voice of affirmation, the higher we can rise.

Like Jacob, Rudolph Nissen (1896-1982) fled for his life from a murderous hater.  This gifted surgeon, driven from his native Germany by the Nazi persecution, made his way to Turkey until that country came out in favor of the Nazis and then at great risk escaped to America where his lack the command of English prevented him practicing medicine. .

But no obstacle could stop Dr. Nissen.  He negotiated a position in research, teaching and then, once folks realized his gifts as healer and teacher, was able to get his license.

But there’s more.  Dr. Nissen never stopped learning and refining his techniques.  Even in exile in Turkey, even in the early days in New York, he used every opportunity that presented itself- and when it didn’t, he created opportunities- to learn and to innovate.  In particular, Dr. Nissen pioneered a technique for stopping esophageal bleeding which came to be called the Nissen Fundoplication. 

 In 1948, a frail, dying fellow German former refugee arrived at the Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn where Dr. Nissen was head of surgery.  The condition was an enormous abdominal aortic aneurysm: a tear in the stomach which had no treatment.  A death sentence.  

But on the spot, Dr. Nissen overcame even this obstacle creating a way to protect the endangered vessel and gain years of life for his patient: Albert Einstein enabling the physicist to give the world some of his greatest scientific revelations.  

Jacob’s life is full of obstacles.  And so are ours.  But by responding with faith; learning, growing, seeking light, continuing the journey, testing ourselves with challenges, we can hear that Presence that speaks from within our own hearts and like Jacob say: G-d is in this place.

Einstein sent Dr. Nissen a photograph of himself sticking his tongue out irreverently, poking a bit of fun at the papparazzi who had gathered to report on his passing.  He wrote, "To Nissen, my tummy- to the world, my tongue!"

Shabbat Shalom

Thu, February 22 2024 13 Adar I 5784