This week's Torah portion, Parshat Vayishlach begins with Jacob crossing the stream of Jabbok alongside his family and servants. Once Jacob makes his way across the stream, he is left alone to fight an angel of G-d. Throughout the altercation, both Jacob and the angel struggle to overtake the other. As time passes, the angel realizes he cannot prevail and dislocates Jacob’s hip. The fight continues until the break of dawn, ending only when Jacob asks to be blessed by the angel in return for ending the fight. The angel asks for Jacob’s name and in turn replies, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] G-d and with men, and you have prevailed." (Genesis 29). Jacob then asks for the angel’s name. The angel does not give Jacob a response but proceeds to bless Jacob with the name Israel, which translates to “struggle with G-d”.
Jacob’s struggle teaches us about confronting authority and inner conflict. At the beginning of the story, the Parsha tells us that Jacob had to cross a river with his family before fighting the angel. The river can be seen as a metaphor for the first obstacle Jacob had to overcome before reaching the true challenge: his confrontation with the angel. As the Torah very clearly conveys, Jacob was surrounded by many people before fighting the angel. This allows us to ask the question, “what was the purpose of Jacob being surrounded by his loved ones prior to a difficult time in this life?” Perhaps it is because sometimes we need others to support us when starting a difficult journey. The lesson we learn in this Parsha is actually very applicable to our own lives. For example, in BBYO, our chapters and communities are here to support us when needed. However, when Jacob is eventually left alone, it also shows us the importance of self-reflection, and forging your own path.
The climax of the fight occurs when the brawl has gone on so long that the angel, out of desperation, dislocated Jacob’s hip. Why did the angel dislocate Jacob's hip? Maybe this injury inflicted by the angel represents how sometimes, when we challenge a belief or idea, it is possible that we will come across setbacks, sometimes even painful ones. Making change is not easy but persisting through the setbacks is how positive results will be produced. The fight between Jacob and the angel can also be seen as an internal conflict between Jacob and himself. After Jacob’s hip is dislocated, he continues to struggle with G-d only to eventually persevere. The legs, attached at the hip, support our body, just as our beliefs support our morals. The angel dislocating Jacobs’ hip serves as a metaphor for the importance of standing strong in our own beliefs while enduring internal conflicts. Jacob’s hip dislocation is comparable to our ever-changing understanding of situations as we go through the process of confrontation. However, just as Jacob persisted, it is crucial we maintain a set of beliefs that support our morals as well.
How is it that an angel could lose a fight? Maybe the angel’s defeat is meant to teach us that you should not feel intimidated to confront others just because you believe they are superior to you. Alternatively, it’s possible the angel lost on purpose to push Jacob to his maximum potential. As people in positions of power, it’s important we don’t shut out those who are not in leadership roles, but rather find ways to push them and help them grow.
Jacob’s newly bestowed name, Israel, “to struggle with G-d” reminds us that, in Judaism, we are encouraged to struggle with G-d and our beliefs. The main lesson from this Parshah is that we should take initiative to step out of our comfort zones, whether it's challenging others or our own beliefs. In BBYO, we are given so many opportunities to step outside of our boxes, whether at summer programs, regional conventions, or international experiences. We must take advantage of these moments, identify the struggle that lies before us, and summon the inner strength to overcome it.
NRE DC Shlichim, Leah Barash and Dylan Laborwit
Read commentary on this week's Parsha from BBYO teens around the world.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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