וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר׃
וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃
“Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.“Said [God,] “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:25, 29)
This week we find ourselves in Jacob’s second dream, where he wrestles with an “ish.” Commentators explain that this “ish” might be a “man covered with dust” or perhaps it was Esau’s guardian angel (Genesis Rabbah 77:3). The word struggle, Va-ye’avek, shares the same root as dust (a-vak). Jacob is preparing to meet his estranged brother for the first time in many years. Jacob presumes that Esau is still raging with anger toward Jacob, so the idea of Jacob struggling or wrestling with both himself and an image or vision or memories of Esau makes sense.
Another play on Hebrew translation is Jacob’s name, Ya’akov. Ekev, which forms the root of Yaakov means both “because” and “heel (follow).” The Hebrew play illuminates a sense of cause and effect. When God speaks to Jacob a few verses later and changes his name to Israel, God does so because Jacob “struggled with beings divine and human” and prevailed. Because Jacob heels (follows) his mother’s instructions to steal Esau’s birthright, estrangement from Esua follows. Because Jacob still must learn some serious life lessons, he has to follow Laban’s rule.
Finally, Jacob overcomes his struggles and in the moments before meeting his estranged brother reconciles with his poignant past, resulting in the mystical battle with a dust-covered being and a transformation into someone new. Jacob transforms through struggle into discovering his highest self, becoming Israel, the ancestor of a great peoplehood.
What have your struggles led you to overcome? What are you wrestling with at this moment and how might this challenge help you transform into an opportunity for growth? May that be God’s will, for a blessing.