Shalom Men of Torah.

Parsha Vayishlach….what can we say?  Yesterday’s portion was awesome!  Packed with so much deep and profound significance.  Not the least of which is Jacob’s encounter with a “man” whom he later describes as “the Divine”.

This event at a place called Peniel (literally, the face of El) has been discussed by many commentators through the ages.  The real question is what is this incident teaching us?  We know it was a watershed moment in Jacob’s life, but how do we put ourselves in the story?  What significance, beyond the obvious historical one, does this event at Peniel have for me?

There is lots of debate and discussion within the movement about who is Israel?  We all are at least familiar with most of the different views on this matter.  However, from a midrashic perspective allow me to offer another view.

The Torah records that as Jacob wrestled all night with the man he refused to let go.  He held on with all his might.  He did not give up.  This is Jacob’s nature.  He knows how to fight for what matters — the birthright, the blessings, for Rachel, for his flocks, etc.  When the man saw that Jacob would not relent, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (32:27), something profound happened.  The man changed his name from Jacob to Israel.

The name Israel means “he who wrestles with El”. May I suggest that at the end of the day the final remnant of Israel will be composed of only those who, regardless of ethnicity, have continually wrestled with Hashem and persevered.  Those who are willing to overcome and prevail like Jacob will be those who truly inherit the eternal promises given to the seed of Avraham Avinu.

What are some signs that you are wrestling with Hashem (this is not an exhaustive list, of course):

  • Do you find your thoughts more often than not contemplating the weekly Torah portion, the lessons from Tzadik class, the daily prayers, etc?
  • Are you really concerned about should I where my tzitzit in or out? — I want to keep the commandment but I don’t want to offend anyone.
  • What is the proper approach to kashrut?  Should I separate or not?
  • Are you mindful of those who the Torah says we should honor — the elderly, widows, etc.?
  • Do you enjoy the fellowship of your community and can’t wait until the next time we are together?
  • Are you willing to cast off old preconceived notions and understandings for the sake of truth when it confronts you?
  • Does keeping the mitzvot bring joy or oy?  Is His burden light and His yoke easy?
  • Is taking the Name in vain (the way you carry yourself) always a concern for which you have genuine fear?
  • Are you willing to separate yourself from the world, the visible church and even perhaps on occasion from traditional Judaism for the sake of the Master?

If you can honestly answer “yes” to these questions than congratulations, you are Israel. If you cannot honestly answer “yes”, then what are you waiting for?  Get back in the wrestling match?

Those who profess a faith in G-d but have no concern over these questions and the things of G-d, but are rather more concerned about careers, health insurance, paying bills, their next vacation, entertainment, Monday night football and all the other distractions that can so easily ensnare us, are not wrestling with Hashem.  Therefore, are they Israel? — probably not.

The Torah describes the price Jacob paid for contending with man. The man pulls his hip out of socket…ouch!  Consequently, Jacob walked with a limp from that point onward.  That is to say, he never walked the same again.  Brethren, the sign of those who wrestle with Hashem is their walk (halacha) changes forever more.

Consider this analogy.  Picture yourself standing in the middle of a busy highway with a large freight truck coming straight for you at a high rate of speed with no hope of escape.  If you have an encounter with a large, freight truck — something about you must change.  There is no way you can remain the same.  Is not our G-d even bigger than a freight truck?

Brethren, it is impossible to have an encounter with the Adonai Elohim Tzvaot and remain the same.  Therefore, if we are part of the remnant it is because we have and continue to wrestle with Hashem and His Word.  And, consequently we are changed.  The way we think, the way we talk, the way we eat, the way we dress, the way we conduct business, the way we relate to others, our sexual practices, our priorities….everything about us and every aspect of our lives must change.  That is the sign!  Are we not new creatures?  Has not the old man passed away?

“He that overcomes shall inherit all things, and I shall be his G-d and he shall be my son.” Rev.21:7

Shavua Tov,

Avigdor ben Avraham