Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Vayishlach

This week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, tells of Jacob wrestling with an angel, and receiving the name ‘Israel’.  The image of a person and an angel entangled with each other is both beautiful and empowering – and then the angel hits below the belt.  Needing to release himself, the angel targets Jacob’s thigh, injuring his sciatic nerve.  Jacob will bear the injury and the pain of it for the rest of his life.

Two opposite events are occurring simultaneously that night.  Jacob is being blessed with the name ‘Israel’, while at the same time he is being physically injured.  The blessing will grow through time, as his descendants learn of its meaning, but the injury will also grow, as Jacob ages and the pain progresses.  The positive and the negative are sitting side by side.

The Torah tells us of both events, and then tells us to remember them both in who we are and in what we do.  Jacob’s descendants are the Israelites, and today, all Jews know we are the nation, Israel.  At the same time, the Torah tells us we must refrain from eating any meat from the back half of an animal that might contain the relevant nerve.  It is not the meat that isn’t permitted, it’s the nerve.  The Torah has told us that as we bear the name of the blessing that was bestowed, we must always remember the injury of that night.

Judaism sits in the covenant with God, but a blessing is not the same thing as protection.  As Jacob is blessed, he is injured, and the Torah tells us to remember the injury.  

All this happens on the night before Jacob is to reunite with his brother, Esau, his twin who has sworn to kill him.  Jacob has prepared his camp for war, even as he is soliciting for peace.  We are taught to cherish the blessings of Israel, while we simultaneously understand that danger and injuries are still part of this world, and we take steps accordingly.  

The power of Jacob’s encounter with the angel is the choice of perspective we see.  Two things happened that night, and although Jacob will live with the physical pain of his injury, we never hear of it again.  He has focused on the blessing of becoming Israel, and that is the lesson he teaches us most clearly.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,