Parashat Vayishlach: Teen Dvar Torah

We are pleased to share Ilana Wurman’s dvar Torah on Parashat Vayishlach.

by Ilana Wurman

Throughout life, we all have to wrestle with many things. We need to deal with school, work, and of course, tiny evil 5 year olds who enjoy tackling their siblings. But, at times, we also need to wrestle with ourselves, and emerge as a new, wiser person.

In my Torah portion, Jacob and Esau meet for the first time after Jacob steals the birthright from Esau. Both brothers are expecting a battle to happen, and both prepare for the worst. The Torah tells us that the night before Jacob meets Esau, a man wrestles with him all night. Vayivateir Yaakov levahdo, Vayei-ahvek ish imo ahd alote hashachar (Gen 32:25). Jacob will not allow the man to leave until he blesses Jacob, and changes his name to Israel. When Jacob and Esau do meet, instead of fighting they embrace each other and finally forgive each other after the years of separation.

This portion has been interpreted in many different ways. Ancient rabbis believe that the man is an angel in the form of a robber. Nachmanides sees the battle as a symbol for the struggles that Israel as a nation would go through. Rashi sees the man as Esau’s spirit, trying to weaken Jacob before the confrontation and the Rashbam says that Jacob wants to run away and that the angel is sent to stop him.

I personally agree with the commentators who say that Jacob is wrestling with himself. Jacob has two sides before he meets Esau again. There is the Jacob who steals the birthright and runs away from his troubles, and the Jacob that knows he is wrong. Jacob runs when he first steals the birthright; now he is about to see Esau for the first time in many years. He knows he will have to face the conflict he has created and left behind. The night he wrestles with the angel, Jacob has to discover who he truly is. He goes into the fight as Jacob, a man who has stolen from his brother and hidden from his wrongs, and emerges from it as Israel, a man who has wrestled with himself and is prepared to face anything his brother might do to him. Once again, Jacob has emerged from a conflict, but this time he has faced it maturely, rather than running away. When Jacob walks away from the fight with the angel, slightly wounded but still strong, he has grown and realizes that he needs to admit that he has cheated his brother. When he meets Esau, they both have grown, and they both realize that it is time for them to leave their pasts behind and continue on as brothers.

The maturing of Jacob relates a lot to my journey in becoming a bat mitzvah. Jacob has one night to prepare for his meeting with Esau, but I have had months of preparation for this day when I have to confront myself and become a bat mitzvah. Over the years, Jacob has learned to realize that he is wrong in what he has done to his brother, and to grow out of his old, immature self. He looks inside himself and manages to find the better person he is able to be.

Over the past few months, I have learned an amazing amount about being Jewish and maturing along the journey of becoming a bat mitzvah. I still don’t know for sure who I am as a Jew, but wrestling with myself along this journey has helped me come up with ideas. My inner Jew will not run from her problems. She will know when she does something wrong, and she will have the courage to admit it and fix it. I don’t want to be cowardly like Jacob, but I want to be strong and more mature like Israel.

For my mitzvah project, I needed physical, not moral or spiritual strength. I participated in the 2010 CROP walk. With the help of many Bonai Shalom members, I raised over 600 dollars to benefit the hungry, both locally and globally. Unlike Jacob walking away from all of the bad things he did, all the people in the CROP walk walked for a good cause, and helped out hundreds of hungry people in the world.

Throughout my journey in becoming a bat mitzvah, I have met so many amazing people who have helped me through this. They have helped me to wrestle with myself, but not go crazy while working my way along this path that I have chosen. I am the last person to become a bar or bat mitzvah in the 2009-2010 b’nei mitzvah class (the best class to ever be at Bonai Shalom,) and I hope that since the first time we all met last August, we have all grown and found our inner Jews.

Yasher koach, Ilana! 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

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