Shabbat Shalom: Forever Changed
By: Michelle Ruby Schwartz
Director of Teen Emissaries and Education
This week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, finds Jacob on his way to meet his brother Esau after many years of separation. While on his journey to their meeting, Jacob falls asleep and during the night wrestles with a “stranger.” It is a long and hard battle that eventually ends with Jacob being victorious and G-d changing his name from Jacob to Israel, meaning “one who has struggled.”
After decades of life experiences that include sibling rivalry that eventually leads him into deceiving his brother to steal the birthright, working for years to marry Rachel only to be tricked into marrying her sister Leah first, working another seven years to marry Rachel and fathering 13 children, he’s suddenly given a whole new identity. Just like that, he becomes Israel and faces his next life event carrying a new name with divine meaning.
We are all known by a name and most of us by many. They help us define who we are and create the pieces that we use to build our identity. Until the war in Israel began, I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have one of those pieces taken away and a new one given in a moment. I now have a glimpse into how that feels.
Our identity as American Jews changed in a moment. As we watch the news, consume social media, and interact with peers, many of us are wondering where we fit in and what our roles are in this ever-changing landscape. In some settings, we feel isolated, lonely, and even fearful to allow our Jewish identity to be revealed, and, in other situations, we feel it is imperative we speak up and speak out about what is happening in the world. We are fighting so many battles with anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric seeping out from places we never expected (in addition to the ones we already knew existed) all while witnessing war in our homeland 7,000 miles away. People close to us and complete strangers are asking, “What do you think about what’s happening in Israel?” and in an instant, we must decide who we are going to be before we can answer.
My incredibly wise and wonderful friend, Rabbi Emily Hyatt, often teaches about holding space for multiple things at the same time. She explains that we need to be able to hold joy and sadness, loneliness in community, pain and comfort, anxiety and calm at the same time. I see our identity much the same. We need to make room for all the pieces that make up who we are and be able to let multiple pieces show at the same time. We need to be our authentic selves in times of happiness and contentment, and in times of struggle and turmoil. It can be hard to know what that means right now, but sometimes, we just need permission to feel conflicted and not be afraid of changes to who we are.
Jacob was engaged in an unexpected wrestling match and did not know what the outcome would be, but he knew he had to keep trying to overcome the challenger. It resulted in him being forever changed, whether it was welcome or not, and informed the rest of his life as a patriarch of the Jewish people. He integrated his new identity as he led the Jewish people to their next chapter. May we be able to do the same as part of the people of Israel in times of war and, G-d willing, in peace.
Please email Michelle Schwartz at email@example.com with questions or comments.