This week in Torah, Parshat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:23-29), Yaakov (Jacob) wrestles with a mysterious being in the night.
The setting is the edge of the Jabok River. He is on his own in this portion of the journey, leaving his large family of wives and sons to wait for him at a secure location while he treks onward to meet his brother Esav on the other side of the river; the brother he deceived 22 years before, the one who vowed to kill him if he ever found him. Alone, in the dark of night, with the terror of imagination, the regret of his past wrongs, knowing that his twin may well murder him in the morning... כה וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר. 32:25 'And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day' It is unclear to the reader at this point if he has had a dream or truly is attacked by an unnamed ish (man), for when he "wakes" he has an injury to his leg. While day begins to break the ish begs him to let him go, but Yaakov in his typical manner declares that he will not let go until the ish gives him a blessing. Clearly Yaakov knows that this is no ordinary man, but a being sent by God. And so he is given a new name as his blessing: Yisrael (Israel). כט וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ--כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל: כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל. 32:29 And he said: 'Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have wrestled with God and with men, and have prevailed.' Now the meaning of the name Yaakov (Jacob) is "supplanter", one who takes the place of (another), a schemer or strategist. And this name is true of this ancestor through out most of his life. He tricks his brother and father so that he receives what is rightfully his own twin's birth right, he is in turn deceived by his father-in-law, Leban into marrying Leah, the sister of his beloved and must work 7 more years to marry his Rachel, and then Yaakov the schemer spends the remainder of his time working for his father-in-law plotting and fleecing (litterally) Leban by misleading him so that he Yaakov ends up with the healthiest of Laban's sheep. His new name Yisrael (Israel) translates to "One who wrestles with God". Many scholars argue whether it was a Man, an Angel or perhaps his own Ego that Yaakov/Yisrael wrestled with in the night. What is clear is that in the morning he is awake; or one could say there is an awakening that happens within him.
There is a beautiful teaching (I think from the Sfat Emet but don’t quote me) that basically says Yaakov refers to the body, but Yisrael is a more complete state of being (shalem-whole)-body & soul fully integrated with a deep awareness of Unity with God.
So how does this Torah relate to my life experience, my personal Torah unfolding?
My name has not changed…exactly…but the way I pronounce my name is certainly different these days. My body is not the body I used to know, it is not as strong. I am constantly wrestling with something be it walking, talking or tying my shoes. Much in my life has become a struggle, and yet simultaneously, like Yaakov/Yisrael, I am being offered blessings. Not a new name per say; but a discovery of more peace in my heart & soul despite or maybe because of the physical struggles. *notice that the words shalom (peace) and shalem (whole) share a root, shin-lamed-mem (Hebrew is such a fascinating language that way!).
My friend called me Spirit Gate-Opener a few blogs back. That was a new name. I’m also kind of fond of the name Lorax –remember the Dr Seuss story-Lorax is the one who speaks for the trees. I think the Thanksgiving blog was kind of a combo Spirit Gate-Opener/Lorax action. I asked people to stop and pay attention to what was good in their lives, what were they grateful for (opening a Spirit Gate) and then I “spoke” for them by publishing the words of their hearts & souls on my blog so that others could hear the voice of "this small forest" of humanity.
Let me be clear, I am not at all boasting of being “enlightened” like Yisrael, Avraham, Moshe, Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed…I am not, will never be, like them, I know this. I’m just an ordinary person. I do however feel a deeper connection to God at this point in my life than I ever have before. I feel more linked to everyone and everything…not a thoroughly merged union like I imagine an enlightened being would experience-not like Yisrael, Shalem (whole), a fully integrated body & soul as I mentioned (from a memory of something I read or heard and am hopefully correctly attributing to the Sfat Emet)…but perhaps a bit closer to this state than I was before, at least in my personal awareness of what shalem might feel like.
Most likely this is temporary, like the shifting accents in my voice or the pains that come and go or the strength in my legs and arms that I pray returns, but is not present now. I don’t know. But I’m enjoying it. I am appreciating it. I am recognizing the blessing that has been bestowed upon me right now, at this moment in my life. And I am so grateful.
To read another take on Vayishlach…from the Torah of my Life exactly a year ago in Torah time, go to: gesher yoga
(I added an extra x for effect-kind of looks like a gate (xx) and also not to make anyone in the good doctor's family mad!)
ps....I found out from someone this morning that there is a NAME for this phenomenon of vocal globe trotting I am experiencing! It is called Foreign Accent Sydrome...it happens to people who have stokes and other brain malfunctions and occasionally to people with MS...so go figure...I write a blog about changing names and the next day here's a NAME for this weird experience...kind of cool when stuff like this happens, no? (by the way, today I sound like I am from Mexico...no kiiiding!...and really, who knew "Elmer Fudd" was an accent?)