Vayishlach — Genesis 32:4-36:43, The Parashat Hashavua for Saturday, November 24, 2018

In this week of Thanksgiving smoke from the Camp Fire has hung over the Bay Area and polluted our air. We still carry the hard memories of the Pittsburgh shootings within us. Our nation feels deeply divided. It is easy in times like these to give in to despair, but this week’s Torah portion teaches us not to. Jacob is returning after 14 years in exile to see his brother who he cheated and hurt so many years before. He is alone in the night before the meeting is about to take place, then we read, “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (Genesis 32:3) And the mysterious opponent tells Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:29). Who was this mysterious man? Some sages say he was Jacob’s guardian angel. Other’s say he was Esau’s guardian angel. Perhaps he was neither, but rather Jacob’s shadow self, his dark side, the part he had to make peace with if he ever was to be whole. At the end of the struggle, just before down he receives his real name, not Jacob but Israel, which means one who struggles with God. This is our name too. We are the Children of Israel. Our destiny is keep faith in dark times, in times of struggle and hold on until the dawning of the light. This Thanksgiving let’s be grateful for our history and our destiny and remember that we are the children of men and women who have held fast to high ideals in dark times before and we will do so again.