Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vayishlach: Yaacov's Journey to Yisrael

About to face his brother for the first time since he 'stole' the blessings twenty years earlier, Yaacov finds himself alone and wrestling with a stranger. Even while he ultimately receives a blessing and a new name (Yisrael), he doesn’t leave the encounter unscathed. This week we focused on this struggle, and looked at its contemporary relevance for us, the children of Yisrael

Two major stories in Yaacov's life – gaining the birthright from Esav and obtaining the blessings from his father - involve him having to 'become' Esav (by making red soup, or by dressing up in Esav's clothes ). This feeling - of being unable to distinguish between what Eric Fromm calls 'having' and 'being' - accompanies Yaacov all of his life until the fateful night at the river Jabok where he battles with his self conscious and replays the fateful question 'what is your name'.

This time, rather than responding 'I am Esav', Yaacov responds with his correct name, and 'in a symbolic rectification and reversal of his previous denial of self identification, Jacob has replayed the moment that encapsulated his relinquishing of his moral autonomy' (Shmuel Klitsner, Wrestling Jacob)

He is now able to receive a new name - one of wrestling with God and with man. Similarly, we, as descendents of Yisrael, have a duty to be prepared to wrestle with both man and God (or His texts) if the situation demands it.

Click here for the source sheet, here for the audio recording (right click to download)

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