ISRAEL: “to struggle with the Godly”

This article, sent to me from United With Israel, was such a blessing this morning! I have always wondered about the translation from Hebrew to English of Genesis 32:22-32, and now I understand that there is a discrepancy according to a rabbi who is able to read the passage in Hebrew and understand its literal meaning.

The Scripture describes the night when Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, was all alone in the dark — unusual for a man with such a HUGE extended family — when “a man” wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Surprisingly, Jacob actually won the match! And in addition, he was rewarded with a blessing. “The man” said to Jacob, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but ISRAEL, because you have struggled with God and with man and have overcome” (Gen. 33:28, New International Version).

Over the years I’ve become aware that there are MANY different interpretations of this passage. To this day, none of them had made clear sense to me. Especially when a meaning is given for the word ISRAEL. The New King James Version says that it literally means “Prince with God.” The 2011 New International Version says “it probably means he struggles with God.”  The Message says within the scripture text “Israel (God-Wrestler).” Is it any wonder that non-believers have trouble with so-called “contradictions” like this one? Even I have to admit that something here doesn’t seem quite right!

So today I am feeling thankful for an explanation that makes sense to me. Here, for your consideration, is the article by Rabbi Ari Enkin …

The Eternal Wrestling Match: ISRAEL is Born!

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayishlach” (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43). In it, we read one of the most mysterious, if not outright mystical, episodes in the book of Genesis: Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with a strange “man.”

Let’s take a look at the text:

And Jacob was alone, and a man wrestled with him until the crack of dawn. When the man saw that he could not defeat Jacob, he grabbed him by his thigh and dislocated his leg. The man said, “Let me go for dawn has come!” And Jacob said: “I will not release you until you bless me.” So he said to him, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “No longer will your name be Jacob, but rather Israel, for you have struggled with both the Godly as well as with man, and you prevailed.” (Genesis 32:25-28)

Our sages teach us that this was no ordinary “man,” but rather, it was an angel! Esau’s guardian angel to be exact. [Note: Jacob was preparing to meet his brother Esaua after many years of conflict between the twin brothers. — PY] It was a long and difficult night, but in the end, Jacob ultimately prevailed, as he held his opponent hostage until he ransomed himself with a blessing. What was that blessing that he received? A new name. “ISRAEL”. YISRA-EL means “to struggle with the Godly.”

This mysterious wrestling match has many interpretations. Among them is that the wrestling match that Jacob had to endure with this angel represents the same wrestling match we all go through on a daily –I mean hourly- basis: the wrestling match with our ‘YETZER HARA’ — our EVIL INCLINATION. You know, that little voice inside of you that tells you not to do the right thing, or that urges you to forgo an opportunity to perform some mitzvah or act of kindness. You got it….That’s the yetzer hara.

rabbi

The story is told of a rabbi who noticed that one of the students in his learning group had been absent for several days. This was the same student who hadn’t missed a single day in years! Getting worried, the rabbi went to the young man’s home to inquire on his welfare. When the rabbi arrived at the home and met his student he asked the student why he was absent. “What’s wrong? It must be serious for you to be missing several days after a perfect attendance for many years?!”

The boy was hesitant to reveal the reason he had been absent, simply telling the rabbi that he wouldn’t understand the reason even if he told him. The rabbi begged him to reveal the secret and promised that he would try to understand the boy’s perspective. Finally, the boy blurted out the reason why he had been absent: “Soccer Finals!!!”

The rabbi listened to the boy praise the virtues of the soccer finals. “I’m sure that this game of soccer must be quite exciting. Tell me,” he asked, “How do you play soccer? What’s the object? “Well,” began the student filled with enthusiasm, “there are eleven players, and the object is to kick a ball into the other team’s net!”

“Oh! Is that all?” asked the rabbi. “So just go there, kick the ball in the goal, and then get back to the class!” The boy laughed. “You don’t understand! The opposing team also has eleven players and a goal-keeper, and their job is to stop our team from getting the ball into their goal!”

soccer

“Tell me…These other players on the other team, are they there all day and night?” “Of course not Rabbi, they go home after the game!”

So the rabbi had an idea. “Why don’t you sneak into the stadium in the evening and kick the ball into the goal when no one is there to stop you?! Then you can win and return to learning Torah!” The boy threw his hands up in frustration. “Rabbi! You don’t understand. It’s of no real value to kick a ball into an empty net if there is no one trying to stop you!”

“Aha!” said the rabbi. “Now think a moment and listen to what you just said! It is no trick to come to learn Torah only when there is nothing trying to hold you back! It is when the urge to skip is so overpowering, when the yetzer hara is “blocking the goal”— that’s when you can score real points! Come tomorrow and you can’t imagine how much your Torah learning will be worth!”

The next day, the boy indeed arrived for the class. Said the rabbi: “You have no idea what kind of “huge goal” you just scored against the yetzer hara!”

And so it is with us. We all have a “little man” inside of us trying to hold us back from doing the right thing. Whether he is trying to convince us to miss a Torah class, not to give some money to charity, or even not to help a stranded motorist change his flat tire, that little man “wrestles” and “wrestles” with us trying to get its way. We have to be like Jacob, always fighting back and never giving up. You can and will be victorious. And when you are…it is the greatest blessing that you could hope to acquire for yourself!

11/15/13

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