At Shabbat Services we discussed the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel and becoming
Israel. I concluded by sharing a teaching by the
Hasidic master, Sefat Emat. He writes:
This may be an account of Jacob’s wrestling with his conscience, torn between his human tendency to avoid an unpleasant encounter and the divine impulse in him that urges him to do the difficult but right thing. This position may find support in the text, “you have striven with beings divine and human” which can also be translated, “you have striven with God and with men.” We can imagine Jacob saying to himself, “Until now, I have responded to difficult situations by lying and running. I deceived my father. I ran away from Esau. I left Laban’s house stealthily instead of confronting him. I hate myself for being a person who lies and runs. But I’m afraid of facing up to the situation.” By not defeating his conscience, Jacob wins. He outgrows his Jacob identity as the trickster and becomes
Israel, the one who contends with God and people instead of avoiding or manipulating them. At the end of the struggle, he is physically wounded and emotionally depleted. Nevertheless, the Torah describes him as shalem, translated as “safe” with connotations of “whole,” at peace with himself, possessing an integrity he never had before.
Struggle is what defines us. It is what names us. Struggle has the potential to make us great.