Parshat Vayishlach

Torah Reading for Week of November 10-16, 2013

“Life’s Inner Struggles”
By Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, AJRCA Professor of Talmud


Life is filled with challenges, both from without and from within. At night, after a long day facing life’s external challenges, we often find ourselves facing our own internal challenges and struggles. Confronting our own internal struggles is a lonely and potentially frightening experience.

On the eve of one of the greatest challenges in his life, Jacob finds himself in a deep internal confrontation and crisis. Scheduled to meet his brother Esau in the morning for the first time in twenty years, Jacob is tormented and afraid. Their last encounter involved Jacob deceitfully taking his brother’s blessing, kindling Esau’s wrath against Jacob with threats to kill his brother. This terrifying reunion is about to take place, and Jacob spends the entire night before engaged in a deep internal struggle. He knows he wronged his brother, and now he must face him. Jacob sends his family ahead, staying behind all by himself: “And Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until thebreak of dawn” (Genesis 32:25).

Who was this “man” that wrestled with Jacob? Was there actually a “man,” or was this mysterious nocturnal encounter a metaphor for Jacob’s own internal struggles? Was Jacob involved in a physical wrestling match, or was he wrestling with his own conscience?

I believe that Jacob was wrestling with his own anxieties, his own fears, and his own internal complexities and dilemmas. The “wrestling match” that night was a manifestation of the complexity of Jacob’s own life, projected through Jacob’s subconscious.

The lesson we draw from Jacob’s famous “wrestling match” is not the outcome, but the struggle itself. We are reminded, in very powerful, even physical terms, that people of faith –“men and women of G-d” — experience inner struggles and complexities in their lives. Faith does not always provide the answers to our struggles, but instead offers a medium through which we can express our fears and insecurities. While struggling, “Jacob remained alone,” but his experience inspires us — as people of faith – that we can in fact “struggle and still believe.” Perhaps during our moments of internal crisis is when we potentially feel G-d’s presence most powerfully. As Abraham Joshua Heschel – himself a complex man of faith — famously put it: Man is not alone.




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