By: Michelle Ruby Schwartz
Director of Israel Teen Emissaries and Education
This week’s Torah portion is a continuation of Jacob’s story. He is on his way back to his childhood home carrying much fear and anxiety about returning, not knowing how he will be received by his brother, Esau. Last they saw each other; Jacob had deceived their father Isaac and was given the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau as the first-born son. Jacob prepares to meet Esau again and is filled with uncertainty and is afraid for his life. On his journey home, he stops and spends the night alone. During the night, a man wrestles with him until daybreak at which point, Jacob refuses to let go until the man gives him a blessing. The man replies, “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.” Jacob is blessed with a new name and a peaceful reconciliation with his brother.
I have always been intrigued by the changing of Jacob’s name. Israel, Yisrael in Hebrew, can be translated to mean, one who has wrestled with G-d. As we are aware Israel is a complicated place with complex issues. To name the land Israel implies that is a place of struggle and conflict, which at times it is, but I think it can then be easy to forget that it is also a place of great beauty and rich culture. For every challenge, there is also opportunity.
This idea is best explained by a phrase the Jewish Agency for Israel coined that we often use with both when teaching about Israel. We can at the same time both hug and wrestle with Israel and in many ways should feel obligated to do so. As we approach Israel’s 75th birthday, we are continuing to see generational shifts in how people feel about Israel. It is often the younger generations who are doing more wrestling while the older generations continue to hug. Figuring out how the American Jewish community can continue to support Israel as a whole requires us to be open and listen to narratives that may challenge our assumptions. But, participating in these conversations about Israel and expressing to one another how we feel, will serve as a means for deeper connection and understanding even if there is no agreement. The more we can hug and wrestle with complexities around Israel and Zionism, the more equipped we are to deal with the many issues facing our community including anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and even anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Jacob teaches us to wrestle and not let go until there is blessing at the end of the struggle. My hope is that as we look toward 2023, we bring with us lots of hugs, time for wrestling and continued blessings to our lives and those around us.
Shabbat Shalom, Colorado.
Please email Michelle Ruby Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions.