Post date: Dec 14, 2013 10:27:28 AM
This Shabbat's reading from the Torah is perasha Vayishlach. It begins with the momentous event of Jacob anticipating to see his brother Esau, after 20 years. The last time they saw each other, Jacob had conspired with their mother Rebecca to trick their father into blessing Jacob. Esau was always a hunter with a bad temper, and Jacob understandably is scared of what he might do to him. His fears are confirmed when his forward scouts inform Jacob that Esau has assembled 400 men (i.e., an army) to meet him. "He will kill the mothers with the children."
During all this time, Jacob has grown rich. He owns flocks and has servants, money, 2 wives and their handmaids with whom he has sired eleven children. Everything could vanish in an instant, and Jacob knows it.
It is at this point in the story that Jacob's greatness shines. While he takes precautions to protect his family, he confronts his personal nightmare alone. He accepts his past faults, but he does not become a slave to them. The story tells us of an unnamed man, an "Ish", with whom Jacob struggles throughout the night before meeting Esau. Jacob fights as though his life depends on it. Although injured, Jacob prevails over this unnamed stranger, this Ish. Jacob redefines himself through this struggle. The Ish says to Jacob that henceforth, his name will be Yisra-El, giving our people the name, the Children of Israel.
This name, Israel, comes from two roots, Yisar and El (God). Yisar has multiple meanings. Often translated as "struggle" or "strive", i.e., the people that struggle with God, it also means "prince", i.e., "Prince of God".
There is a beautiful message here.
So often, our most potent enemy is not an external force arrayed against us, but our own self-image. We allow our past, some mistake, some failure, some rejection, some Ish, to hold us back, to prevent us from redefining who we are, who we *can* be.
Changing how we see ourselves is probably the hardest struggle any of us can have. And yet, winning that struggle is not the point. Merely taking on the struggle is the point. When we do, we reject the notion that we are slaves to our past. We affirm the notion that we are free to make choices. And when we do, we become princes in our domain, the rightful heirs to God, the Sovereign.