Confronting challenges in empowerment

Yaakov could have chosen to leave this struggle behind and continue with his preparations for Esav.

Torah MiTzion ,

Torah Mitzion Shabbaton
Torah Mitzion Shabbaton
Torah Mitzion

This week's Dvar Torah is by Nechemya Rosenfeld, former Shaliach in Sydney (2013-14) and currently Shaliach in Nashville

The Torah highlights the struggle between Yaakov and the man at night prior to the meeting with Esav as a transformative experience. What is so unique about this struggle to change Yaakov’s identity and become Israel?

Firstly we will take a glimpse at the verses and pay extra attention to the change in times of the day to look for clues.

"And so the gift went on ahead, while he remained in camp that night.
That same night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions.
Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.
When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him.
Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.”
Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have strivencHeb. saritha, connected with first part of “Israel.” with dOr “God (Elohim, connected with second part of ‘Israel’) and men.”beings divine and human,-d and have prevailed.”
Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he took leave of him there.
So Jacob named the place Peniel,eUnderstood as “face of God.” meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”
The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping on his hip."
(Genesis 32, 22-32)

Yaakov crosses with his presents at night, wakes up at night and crosses with his wives, concubines and sons and fights with a character that seems to be a man till Alot Hashachar – dawn.

Finally at the end of this encounter, as the sun rises, Yaakov limps through Peniel. One must ask – why does the Torah highlight these different times of the day?

Additionally, at the end of the wrestling match Yaakov’s request seems odd. Why wouldn’t he let his opponent go right away at dawn, as requested? Furthermore, why ask for a blessing from someone who just injured him and made him limp?

We will first address Yaakov’s request. During my first and challenging year as a homeroom teacher I posed this question to my 5th grade class. One student answered that a blessing and compliments from friends and our loved ones is a usual phenomenon, even more so friends tend to compliment and bless us in an exaggerated way. On the other hand, when you get a blessing or a compliment from a rival, you know that it is real and honest.

My Aunt Rani highlighted something else about Yaacov’s demand for a blessing. He starts the process in the dark, at nighttime. This can be understood as actual darkness or rather as symbolizing his fear and uncertainty prior to meeting his brother Esav. After all, it didn’t end very well the last time.

At the heart of the account of Yaakov’s nighttime struggle it isn’t clear whether he is actually fighting someone or is just dreaming about an internal battle. But with dawn comes clarity, the ability to see.

Yaakov could have chosen to leave this struggle behind and continue with his preparations for Esav. In other words, he could have let his opponent go at dawn just as requested. But Yaakov rather faces the struggle in the eye and asks – What blessing can I extract from my struggle? How will I rise from this crisis? What did it teach me about myself?

The blessing that Yaacov receives from the man is the acknowledgment and realization of the empowerment that comes from coming to terms with crises: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven withbeings divine and human, and have prevailed.

Yaakov doesn’t dismiss his struggle and painful experience , rather, when it dawns and the sun rises, at a time of clarity reflects and learns from the he experience. His new name – Yisrael, is a model for us, the nation that is named after him.

Look in the past at a painful event and ask what blessing did we get from it? What have we learned about ourselves? How do we turn it into a strength?


Dedicated in memory of Yaakov Aharonov z"l