Jacob's Wrestling Match: Who Was Opponent?

When some of us look back at our younger years, we wonder how we ever made it to middle age. Jacob "wrestles" with himself in this week's Torah portion. Who emerges the winner?


When some of us look back at our lives, and the chances we've taken, and the mistakes we've made, it's easy to ask ourselves:

"How did we survive?"

In our youth, we often felt invincible. How did we live, what did we eat or drink, where did we travel, where did we wake up? Were there people along the way who we were careless with -- casualties of our arrogance?

It is only natural that in our youth, errors of arrogance are made. Yet it is one of the amazing blessings of life, that over time, as we gain insight and experience, we realize for the most part that a path of care and compassion is superior to a road of selfishness and indulgence.

And so it is this week in the Torah as we read a remarkable vignette involving our forefather Jacob as he is about to be reunited with his brother Essau.

To date, Jacob has been less than the poster child for Good Judaism. He tricked his father Isaac and brother Essau into inheriting the family birthright.

He tried to wheel and deal with God, offering his loyalty only if God provides him with material security.

Rather than negotiate with his uncle Lavan for back pay, he slips away from camp in the middle of the night with the number of spotted sheep he thinks he's owed.

Through the first portion of his life, the Torah portrays Jacob as a bit of a scoundrel, who would rather manipulate and run than confront and resolve.

But its now time for Jacob's Waterloo. As he prepares to meet his brother Essau after all these years, Jacob sends everyone away. And in a remarkable scene, the Torah describes Jacob wrestling all night with an angel.

Our Sages ask, "Who was this angel." Some conclude it was Essau, others say it was a supernatural being; still others claim it was God.

But I support the view that this was a vision of Jacob's battle of good and bad within. It is a keynote moment which perhaps each of us has reached in our lives.

For at the end of Jacob's battle, there is no clear victor. But as he departs, the angel pulls Jacob's hip, causing Jacob to walk for the rest of his life with a limp.

Jacob asks the angel his name, but the angel resists. Rather, the angel re-names Jacob Yisrael (Israel) which roughly translated means "struggler" or "wrestler" with God.

Indeed each of us is a descendent of that battle. 

Some mornings when we wake up, we wonder how a living God could allow some of the things which transpire. Others, after observing a sunrise or an early morning frost sigh and declare "what a wonderful world."

We wrestle with God, religion and theology all the days of our lives. But in the end, we come to understand, through experience, that goodness and honesty lead to inner peace.

This was Jacob's journey. This is the road of Israel, where we are encouraged to explore life, to struggle with ourselves and with God, and ultimately to achieve insight.

It is why the Torah is such a blessed text. For it reflects the struggles that so many of us experience. 

Unlike so many religions, whose scriptural characters are perfect or divine, ours carry flaws which are ultimately overcome.

These characters are human beings like you and me, prone to mistakes, but who ultimately prevail not because God has commanded them to, but rather because they have wrestled with their angels, and triumphed.

At the heart of Judaism is a profound belief that through study, prayer and interaction with others we can achieve peace and understanding in our lifetime.

There is no pre-requisite within Judaism to believe in anything, only to experience, and to wrestle.

It is why the Torah continues to be a living document. There is no right or wrong way to read the Torah. It speaks to each of us in different ways.

What struggles are we facing today? What questions do we have of God?

Judaism encourages us to ask them, and to struggle with the mysteries of life.

Though during our youth we often felt invincible, ultimately there is a day of reckoning which Jacob experiences this week.

No one makes it through life without mistakes. No one survives without struggles. But in the end, Judaism believes that in the end, positivity prevails.

Our early years, although often tumultuous and carefree, did form a foundation of who we are now.

Yet in spite of how well we survived, this week's Torah portion reminds us, that even though we are older and wiser, no one gets to move forward in this life without a bit of a limp.

It is why we are called Children of Israel. Indeed, each of us is a wrestler with God. 

For good.

Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv (with all goodness).

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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