Prepared by Rabbi Stephen Texon
In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlah, we read of the patriarch Jacob’s journey home with his family after freeing himself and his entire clan from his father-in-law, Laban’s, control. Along the route, Jacob prepares himself for his eventual reunion with his older twin brother Esau, whom he fears to be vengeful. Right in the middle of the parashah, in between the description of Jacob’s preparations and his actual meeting with Esau, Jacob is involved in a transformative experience: a physical struggle with a stranger. He comes out of the encounter newly named “Israel” and, at least temporarily, limping.
As the narrative goes, after accompanying his family and children from one side of the river Jabbok to the other, Jacob was suddenly left alone. The Torah only tells us that, “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn” (Gen. 32:25). But, if in fact he was left alone, with whom did he wrestle? Was it with a suddenly arrived messenger from God, an angel, as alluded to by the prophet Hosea (12:4)? Or, alternatively, was Jacob’s struggle an internal one, the verses giving a physical description of what was truly an emotional inner fight between Jacob and the demons that haunted him? If the latter, then the Torah’s description of Jacob being “left alone” is more meaningful. For struggling within ourselves and with ourselves is, at times, the most difficult challenge. We can let the demons within us eat us up alive, extinguish our passions, take away our hope. Or, we can conquer them. The ultimate lesson of the Jacob encounter is that, even if we come out a bit scarred, if we face our fears and win the struggle, we can move forward, changed at the core, and stronger to face the future.
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