One of the most fascinating television characters I grew up with was Mr. Spock, chief science officer of the Starship Enterprise. The product of a mixed marriage, a human mother and a Vulcan father, his Vulcan logical self struggles with his human emotional self. He once said, “Being split into two halves is no theory with me, doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half ... submerged, constantly at war with each other. I survive because my intelligence wins out over both and makes them live together.”
The writers of the “Star Trek” series pursued this theme of the split personality, struggle, and growth even further. In one episode, the transporter malfunctions and two Captain Kirks are beamed up to the ship. He has been split into twins, a brutal animalistic Captain Kirk and a sensitive, compassionate, and peaceful one. The aggressive Kirk runs amok, wildly committing violent, vicious acts, pursuing his personal pleasures without regard for others. The good, honorable Kirk is weak, frightened, timid, and not able to make decisions. Leadership skills and abilities seem to derive from both aspects of a person.
This splitting into good and bad may be symbolic of the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination) that is found within us. But the Torah does not denigrate the yetzer hara dimension; in fact, it elevates it. On the third day of creation, the Torah mentions an extra description, “ki tov,” it is good. What is this extra good? According to Rabbi Yishmael, this is the creation of the yetzer hara. Without the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, there would be no marriage, no children, no construction, no settlement, and no development of the world.
In the Krias Shema (bedtime Shema prayer), the Torah instructs us to worship Hashem bechol levavecha — with both our hearts, in the plural, both the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara, to marshal both our good and evil inclination in the worship of Hashem.
After being childless for so many years, and after so many heartfelt prayers, Rivka finally conceives; but there is what appears to be a malfunction in the transporter when the soul of their child is transported to earth. This soul is split in two, resulting in diametrically opposed twins, even in the womb.
One child, a nerd, spends his days indoors, studying, but unfortunately, with questionable ethics. He cunningly takes advantage of his brother’s moment of weakness and effectively buys his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Then he allows himself to be manipulated by his mother to steal the blessings from his brother and deceive his father.
The other son is no angel. He pursues his personal pleasures at the expense of others. The Midrash describes him as a hunter who murders and pillages. The weak, studious brother is thrown out of his sheltered home. He is forced to make a living in the world of Lavan-type businessmen and he also needs to develop his morally deficient ethics in order to behave ethically in a corrupt world.
Yaakov, faced with this challenge, works tirelessly into the night to build himself materially from nothing and spiritually through prayer, study, and altruistic deeds. When Yaakov finally returns to Canaan, the future land of Israel, after a lifetime of effort and struggle building his family and livelihood, the metamorphosis is complete. He is a changed person. He can make peace with his Esav counterpart, his alter ego.
At the end of the “Star Trek” story, the transporter unites both Captain Kirks into one on the transporter machine as the two selves merge. In the Bible story, the nocturnal wrestling dream depicts the two spirits of Yaakov and Esav as they merge into one new spirit.
This change is alluded to by Yaakov’s name change to Yisrael. The root of the word Yaakov is ekev, heel or the calcaneus, a curved bone. The root of Israel is yashar, straight. Yaakov has straightening himself out to become Yisrael and of Israel.
This is the challenge we all face, to marshal all of our talents and energies, good as well as bad to grow and become better people.
I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom. Live long and prosper.
By Uncle Dovie