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Parshas Vayishlach - A Game of Life                15 Kislev 5780

12/13/19 02:59:39


Life today, at the dawn of the second decade of the twenty-first century, is markedly different than it was when I was a teenager forty years ago. For the most part, stereotyping anyone or anyplace is no longer acceptable. Despite this, stereotyping happens to be useful when explaining the differences and changes that have occurred over time. This is especially so when describing men’s and women’s experiences and opportunities regarding equality. With this disclaimer, I grew up watching sports which were all predominantly male. Most sports were ‘modified’ for girls, stereotyping the same sports played by boys to be more rough, rugged and vicious. There was, however, at one mirror-image game where the girls were clearly more aggressive and the boys were actually a bit more cowardly. The male version was called dodgeball and the female counter part was called Machanayim.

I’m not sure if all you reading this know what ‘Machanayim’ is; perhaps it was created and predominately played by religious Jewish girls. I personally never fully understood the game and only recently asked someone how it works. Machanayim is a souped-up version of dodgeball which requires greater killer instinct. Traditional dodgeball for boys is, by and large, a cowardly game consisting mostly of running for cover and retreating to the back line. As the other team threw the ball it lost velocity, making it catchable, getting the thrower knocked out of the game. Typically, when someone threw the ball, he would run to the back line as quickly as he could. In order to shorten the game, the teacher or counselor had to move the back line closer to the middle thereby narrowing the amount of area where one could run and hide.

Machanayim, a game played by girls in Jewish schools and summer camps, is similar to dodge ball. The name ‘Machanayim’ comes from the Hebrew word meaning "two encampments", or in this case, two teams. The Game Play is as follows: Players are divided into two encampments with the room split in two, the teams facing each other. The playing area does not extend all the way to the back of the room or court - the two far ends are left empty, and two volunteers, typically one of the better players from each team, are placed behind the opposing team. This player is called "the captain". In Machanayim team A has its captain on the other side of the field behind the back line of team B. Team B has its captain on the opposite side behind the line of team A. Each team can either throw the ball directly against their opponent with a face-to- face attack, or they can throw the ball to their captain, allowing the captain to attack the other team from behind. Essentially, the teams are constantly running back and forth because the back line can become the front line and vice versa. A player who thinks she can hide and hang out in the back is quickly faced by the captain of the opposing team, now directly in her face, forced to either try to catch the ball or run back again to what was previously the front. A ball is thrown into play at the start, although it is not activated (see below). The game is like dodgeball, in that players throw the ball at opponents. When player are hit, they are out. The difference between Machanayim and Dodgeball is that when a player is out in Machanayim, she are still part of the game. Rather than leaving the court, the player goes to the end area behind the opposing team, joining the original volunteer or captain from her team. The start of the game is the Activation: The ball is only eligible for use in getting others out once it has been "activated". To activate a ball, a player must throw it to any other player, on either team, without it hitting the ground. The ball is announced "alive" when it has been activated. As soon as the ball hits the ground, it is pronounced "dead" and needs resuscitation. Winning: When one team runs out of players (they are all behind the opposing team), the captain goes into the middle. The captain has more than one "life" (can be up to 3). Once the captain is out 3 times, the other team wins.

Earlier, I wrote that I am not sure who came up with this fancy game of Dodgeball or for that matter who named it Machanayim. Upon analyzing the game, one could conjure up the name be borne out of a separation of the two sides or two camps, each team against each other. But that simply could apply to dodgeball as well. I think the key in understanding the name is some or at least one member of each team/camp is on the other side leaving the camp split up. The word Machanayim is plural for the word ‘machaneh’ meaning camp.

In Torah study and commentary, we know there is a connection between one Parsha and the next. This is known as Smichos HaPArshios, loosely translated as either the closeness or the connection between one section (Parsha) and the one that follows. Last week’s Parsha ended Bersishis 32:3 stating "ויאמר יעקב כאשר ראם מחנה אלוקים זה, ויקרא שם המקום ההוא מחנים", "And Yaakov said, as I see this is a camp of Elokim, he called the name of the place Machanayim.” The very beginning of Parshas Vayishlah Bereishis 32:4 states: "וישלח יעקב מלאכים לפניו אל עשו אחיו ארצה שעיר שדה אדום" :“And Yaakov sent angels before him to Esau his brother to the land of Seir, in the plains of Edom”. Rashi in verse 2 explains there were angels of Eretz Yisrael that came to greet Yaakov Avinu to escort him into the land. Then in verse 3 Rashi says there were two camps, one from outside the land who came with Yaakov, and one from inside Eretz Yisrael who came to welcome him. In the next Parsha, Rashi, in verse 4 defines these Mal’achim as actual angels, leading us to believe that other commentaries would say they were just ordinary men acting in a messenger role.

From here we can infer that each camp was comprised of messengers that consisted of both ordinary and angelic beings - there was an ordinary camp that had a captain or messenger on the other side to help out from either direction. Whether the threat came from behind or from the front, the family was protected on all sides. Yaakov Avinu’s journeys throughout his life pave his children’s journeys in their future. Just as Yaakov had different kinds of protection and messengers from all sides, so too, we, the Bnei Yisrael, have angels from various sides looking after us, anticipating any danger in the future. There are signs that are sometimes very obvious and others that are hidden or unclear. From this perspective we should feel comforted, given the knowledge that we are protected, we are being looked after. It is up to us to focus in and recognize these signs, some simple and obvious, others unclear, complex. Regardless of the intensity, we all need to open our eyes and minds to what surrounds us. We need to look with deeper clarity and consider that perhaps this is my angel who is with me, shielding me and guiding my future.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780