Twice at the border of the Land of Israel, Jacob has an encounter with the Divine at night. The first time is in last week’s parsha when he is fleeing and realizes that God is present in the place where he slept and had a sacred dream, and the second is in this week’s parsha, when Jacob wrestles with a Divine being throughout the night.
Perhaps it is an angel. Perhaps it is a part of himself. But as dawn breaks, this being with whom Jacob has contended tells him, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:29)
Commenting on this verse, Rashi (12th Century Germany) writes of Jacob, “It shall no longer be said that the blessings came to you through supplanting and subtlety but through noble conduct (שררה) and in an open manner.”
Jacob has been the consummate trickster. He deceives his brother, his father, and his father-in-law to serve his own ambition. But at this juncture in his life, alone, at night, returning to his home, about to meet his brother whom he has alienated, Jacob can no longer run away.
Perhaps he is wrestling with his “shadow self” as Carl Jung calls the part of ourselves we try to bury or avoid. Emerging from his night long struggle he has “prevailed” over his insecurity and his need to deceive to get his way. Now, having faced his demons, he can face the world openly and honesty.
This is the authenticity we all strive for, to be our true selves. Jacob/Israel is our role model and shows us that ultimately we can’t run from who we are. But we must face it, wrestle with it and integrate it into ourselves if we are to live full lives.
May we find the courage to be who we are meant to be.