This commentary is for Vayishlach (“and he sent Messengers”), Genesis 32: 23-43.
A portion of parshat Vayishlach, is about Jacob and his struggles.
In many ways he was very much like us. There certainly is much for us to learn from him.
Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing that was supposed to have been given to his brother Esau, who was the first-born son in the family. In order to escape his brother’s wrath, Jacob ran away and lived in exile in his uncle Laban’s home for over 20 years.
Laban was a treacherous trickster, but still Jacob amassed a great fortune living with him. After 20 years of servitude, God commanded Jacob to return to the land of his ancestors. In order to do this, Jacob had to pass through Edom, his brother Esau’s territory.
Jacob, his wives, children, servants and animals then finally separated from Laban and began their journey back to their home. Fearing his brother’s rage, Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau in the land of Sier, the country of Edom. Jacob instructed his messengers to appease and spy on his brother. The messengers returned with the frightening report that Esau is coming with an army of 400 men.
Jacob was terrified because he remembered that 20 years earlier, his brother swore to kill him in revenge for stealing his birthright. Jacob made a plan and divided his flocks, herds, camels and people into two camps, with the hope that if Esau attacks one camp, the other still would have a chance to escape.
Once he made sure his family was safe across the river, he returned back to the side that was closer to his brother.
A man appeared in the darkness and wrestled with Jacob until almost the break of dawn. When the man saw that he had not beaten Jacob, he injured Jacob’s hip at the socket. Although in great pain, Jacob did not surrender to the man.
Because the attacker did not want to be seen, he begged Jacob, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But Jacob responded, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
The man then responded, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel (Yisrael), for you have striven with divine beings and human and have prevailed.”
When Jacob asked for this man’s name, the man responded, “You must not know my name,” and then disappeared.
This Torah portion leaves us with many questions. Here are some to think about:
Who was Laban really?
With whom or what, and why did Jacob struggle?
If this story was a dream, how would you interpret it?
Why did the stranger not tell Jacob who he was?
Of all that he could have asked, why did Jacob ask for a blessing
from the stranger?
What is significant about Jacob receiving a new name?
What significance does one’s name have for us Jews?
If you could change your name, what would your name be?
What does Yisrael mean? And how are we the Jewish people, Israel?
Rabbinic Pastor Aggie Goldenholz is the Aurora Sinai Medical Center chaplain and is a Jewish educator with Congregation Sinai.