We are pleased to share Elliot Stein’s dvar Torah on Parashat Vayishlach.
by Elliot Stein
Our torah portion is Vayishlach which means “and he sent,” from the book of Genesis. In it, it tells the story of when Jacob meets his brother Esau after twenty years of Separation. He is afraid to meet Esau because on their father’s death bed Jacob stole his Father’s blessing, and he is afraid that Esau is going to kill him. Jacob divides his Community into two groups so that if they go into battle with Esau then at least half of his group can escape.
That night while he is waiting to meet Esau in the morning, a “man angel” appears before Jacob and wrestles with him all night long. In the battle the angel wrenches Jacob’s hip socket and then says to Jacob “Let me go dawn is breaking”. Jacob says, “only if you bless me”. Then the man angel says to him “what is your name?” “Jacob” he said. Then the man angel said, “no more shall you be called Jacob but Israel for you have struggled with god and with human beings, and prevailed”.
Who was this man angel? Was it Esau’s angel? Was it just a metaphor? After that it was time for Jacob to meet his brother Esau. However it turns out that Esau was not angry at all. Esau wept tears of joy when he reunited with his brother and then he and Jacob went their separate ways. Jacob settled in a town called Succoth in the land of Canaan. He bought some fields from the king and settled in, even making an altar. One day Jacob’s daughter Dinah went out to see some women in the town and the king’s son Shechem saw her and fell in love with her. He violated her, and then had his father the king ask Jacob for permission to marry her. When Jacob’s sons found out they took revenge by killing all the men in the village. Jacob was angry that his sons took revenge in that way. The torah portion ends with Jacob and his people moving again, building an altar to God, and then it describes all of his and Esau’s descendants. They both were very blessed.
The part of the torah portion I’ve just read to you that I want to talk about is what does it mean when Jacob wrestles with the angel? I think it is a metaphor for wrestling with ourselves. I’m sure you have had times that you have wrestled with your own conscience about something. One day when I was walking home from school I saw this homeless man on the street, he was very filthy, he had a leather jacket on, and a pair of torn blue jeans. When I saw him I thought to myself, should I give this person money or not? I was struggling with what to do, because I was thinking does this person really need money? Was he an alcoholic or a drug addict and wanted money to get high? I should mention that he wasn’t actually begging, I just could see that he could use the money so a part of me wanted to give him some. If you know me you know I really value my money. I save and save and try to do extra jobs to have enough money for something good. Then I pulled out my wallet, and I gave him a coin because he just really looked like he needed it. After I did it, I felt really good and I learned that it feels good to do the right thing.
When Jacob was wrestling with the angel I think he was feeling bad about himself for having stolen Esau’s blessing. He had kept Esau’s blessing for a long time, and it was time for Jacob to admit he stole it and it really belonged to Esau. When you make the wrong choice, you feel guilty and ashamed. You don’t feel that you deserve good things to happen to you. When Jacob wrestled with the man /angel and then the man angel blessed him (and gave him a new name – Israel) I think Jacob feels like he has been forgiven by God. It’s like being given a second chance to be a better person. Then the next morning when he meets his brother, not only is Esau not wanting to kill him – but he isn’t even angry! They both cry (with joy) at reuniting. All is forgiven. How do we know what the right thing to do is?
When Jacob stole Esau’s blessing he felt commotion in his soul. After all those years, and meeting up with Esau again, he feels forgiven. Like the slate is clean. I believe that the part of your soul that knows what is right and what is wrong comes from God.. And probably the man angel was God, giving Jacob a way to feel good about himself again. After that night, Jacob is a more forgiving person himself. When his daughter was raped he did not want to take revenge and was mad at his sons for meeting violence with violence.
Maybe that night with the angel changed him for the better. Did I become a better person after I saw the homeless guy? I think so. Rabbi rose taught me a teaching from our tradition: mitzvah go-rare it mitzvah- one mitzvah leads to another. Doing a good deed might make me want to do it again, or it might make me want to do another good deed for another person. I believe that this is why it is good to “wrestle with the angel”. When Jacob wrestles with the angel, he is really wrestling with himself, ( it is important to wrestle with yourself). You can then decide whether to or not to become a better person, you can decide whether to be an adult or a child. I believe that when you are turning into an adult you will then have to make up your mind on what to or not without your parents help. I’m hoping the choices I make are to always tell the truth, to help someone in need, and not to take revenge. You can always choose what you want to be. Be careful though as one mitzvah can lead to another and you could be doing good deeds all the time.
Yasher koach, Elliot! Boulder Jewish News encourages Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to submit their d’var torah for publication, so that the community may learn from our young adults. Information about Mitzvah/Tikkun Olam projects is also welcome. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.