I must admit that I have always been intrigued by wrestling. Some of my earliest memories are of spending time with my grandfather, a lifelong wrestling devotee who - despite all evidence to the contrary - firmly believed in the purity of the sport. We can easily understand wrestling's appeal as a spectator sport, but how do we manage when wrestling becomes more personal?
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:25), continues the story of Jacob - a man with many flaws who struggled with actions he had taken years earlier to steal his older brother's birthright. This week we read how Jacob, anticipating his brother's return after years of separation, finds himself alone in the wilderness where he "wrestled a man until the rise of dawn."
Jacob fights hard throughout the night, persevering despite a broken hip, and he finally receives a blessing from his opponent: "you have struggled with beings both divine and human and have prevailed."
One may ask, who did Jacob really wrestle? It's certainly open to interpretation. I like to think he wrestled with himself, trying to reconcile conflicting feelings about his family and his behavior that he carried for so many years.
Recent revelations of improper behavior by so many of our cultural and political icons have revealed the profound inner conflicts that human beings struggle with on a daily basis. We find ourselves spectators in a very disturbing series of scenarios that all share a similar theme. While the specific behaviors that have recently come to light may be confined to a relatively small number of individuals, we should acknowledge that each of us struggles with our own internal conflicts - things we wish we had not said and done.
For Jacob, and for most of us, this type of struggle is not easy. It might take "all night" and it may leave us wounded, but there is also the possibility that we will achieve a blessing. By struggling with our past, however painful, we may be transformed and emerge with a new identity. Indeed, Jacob not only received his blessing but also a new name: Israel.
May this Shabbat bring us a safe space to begin to examine our inner struggles, to seek forgiveness and to find healing, for each of us and for all of us.
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