In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob is assaulted by an unknown assailant in the darkness of night. Jacob wrestles him down and refuses to let go of his mysterious assailant, even demanding a blessing of him. The assailant asks him, “What is your name?” As Jacob holds on to the man with all his strength, he answers, “Ya’akov” meaning “Heel-grabber.” The name is a reference to his talent for not letting go. It is a wrestling name.
Then the man said, “Your name shall no longer be Ya’akov, but Yisrael (ישראל); for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)
Jacob wrestles with God. He struggles with God and men. He struggled with God for the blessing. He struggled with Esau for the blessing, with Isaac for the blessing, with Laban for the blessing, and in each struggle he eventually prevailed. He is Jacob the wrestler. Jacob pursued a life of wrestling because he recognized that the blessing of God was worth the struggle. A thing for which Esau was willing to trade a bowl of soup, Jacob was willing to wrestle for his whole life. We learn from Jacob the value of the eternal. We learn to hold on to God, and to refuse to let go of Him.
Too often we are quick to let go of Him. When He does not answer our prayer, we let go of Him. When He smites us, when He touches our hip or strikes us, we let go of Him. Jacob did not let go. And God didn’t want him to let go. Neither does He want us to let go. He wants a people that will hold onto Him, cling to Him, grasping His heel through the dark night.
We do not understand why God conceals Himself when He could reveal Himself. We do not understand why we must grope in the darkness to apprehend Him, or why He leaps on us in the metaphorical darkness of life, but He does. He certainly does.
Probably our darkness is self-imposed. From Jacob’s story, we learn that there are two kinds of people in this darkness. There are those who will hold on to God and those who will not. Modern man says, “I can’t see Him, and I can’t hold on to what I cannot see.” A person overcomes only by emulating our father Jacob, who did not let go—even in the darkness.
Vayishlach – וישלח : “And he sent”
Torah : Genesis 32:4-36:43
Haftarah : Hosea 11:7-12:12
Gospel : Matthew 17,18
Source: Torah Portion