In last week’s reading, Jacob was on his way back to his father’s land and heard that Esau was coming to meet him, with 400 men. That didn’t sound good to Jacob- not good, at all!
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So Jacob comes up with a plan: He will appease Esau by sending ahead of himself a large gift, a little at a time, and also split his camp into two, so that in case one is destroyed, the other may survive.
After his group crosses a fork in the Jordan River, with Jacob remaining behind to ensure all have gotten across safely, at night a man comes and wrestles with Jacob throughout the evening, without success in overcoming him. While Jacob has control, in a desperate attempt to get free, the man causes Jacob’s hip to be damaged, but Jacob holds tight until the man asks to be let go because the morning is coming. Jacob refuses to accept the surrender until the man, who Jacob recognizes now as an angelic being, gives him a blessing. The angel gives Jacob a new name, Israel.
Jacob, limping from his injury, crosses the Jabbok River and joins the camps.
When Esau and Jacob meet, Esau is glad to see his brother, embraces and kisses him, and says he doesn’t require the gifts, but after Jacob insists, he takes them. Jacob introduces his family, and when Esau asks Jacob to go with him, Jacob politely begs off, giving the excuse that he needs to take the animals at a slow pace, as well as the young children in the camp. Jacob then settles in what is today called Shechem.
While settled there, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, goes for a walk by herself in the countryside and is raped by the son of the leader of Shechem. The man falls in love with her and asks what bride price Jacob would want in order that the man can marry her. The sons of Jacob, Levi and Simeon (who the Chumash says were the brothers of Dinah from the same mother) state that all the men in the city must be circumcised in order for their sister to be part of that society. When the men agree to this, thinking more of being able to gain the riches of the family then doing the right thing, on the third day after the procedure, which is (supposedly) the most painful day, the brothers and their servants ransack the town and kill all the men, taking their sister back home with them. Jacob chides them for making his family a target for retribution, and after God advises him to go to Beth-El, Jacob moves his camp there. God protects them on the way so they aren’t harassed by any of the other people in that area.
Along the way to Beth-El, Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob is approached by God, who confirms his promise to Jacob to give all the land to Jacob’s descendants, who will be a nation of kings.
The parashah ends with the lineage of Esau.
The Chumash comments that the name change from Jacob, which means one who supplants through guile, to Israel, one who has wrestled with God and succeeded, really indicates that Jacob had a spiritual metamorphosis.
Maimonides says that this was a prophetic vision, and other commentators have believed this contest to be symbolic: the struggle within each of us between our baser passions and nobler ideals. It seems to me, though, this had to be more than symbolic because there was a name change and Jacob did receive physical damage.
In any event, the name change was confirmed by God, and Jacob’s actions after this do represent a change of heart.
With Esau Jacob took advantage, and while with Laban, he took advantage, but now, as Israel, he condemns his sons for their violence and anger with regard to what they did to the men of Shechem (this is especially evident in the blessings he gives before his death.) As one who supplants, Jacob would have congratulated his sons for their guile, but he does the opposite, which shows the change of heart he has undergone.
Jacob used guile and his wits before he wrestled with the angel in that he sent the gifts to Esau, but after he sent his camp across the river he was alone in the dark, fearful and concerned, and he prayed to God for help and protection. Jacob figured to get out of trouble by sending gifts, but now he is out of ideas and has no more tricks, and finally looks solely to God for help.
Here we see the change from depending on himself to depending on God.
This is the change we must all make within ourselves. When we stop depending on ourselves or others and look totally to God, we will be winners.
This doesn’t mean to sit back and wait for God to do everything for us. Jacob didn’t do that- after he prayed for protection, he demonstrated his trust in God by continuing to meet his brother. Letting God be in charge doesn’t mean becoming idle; our God is a God of action, not of sitting around waiting for things to happen, and after we look to him for help and guidance we must then get off our tuchas and do whatever it is we have to do, trusting that God will see us through it.
And he will see us through it, or he might, if we are on the wrong path, prevent us from making things worse for ourselves. Sometimes God clears the way, and other times he will place thorns and briers in your path to redirect you. It is up to us to always be aware of what we are doing and to be open to God’s guidance.
The Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, is the best guide anyone can have, and when we accept Yeshua as our Messiah and ask for the gift of the Ruach, we will receive it. But, again, it is up to us to listen to it.
Jacob was scared for himself and his loved ones, and in his solitude wrestled with what to do, finally coming to the conclusion that he needed to trust God to protect him. The Torah says he wrestled with an angel, but maybe he really was wrestling with himself- the old image of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.
Even though we are told that Jacob defeated the angel, in the long run Jacob (the one who supplants) surrendered to God’s will and became Israel, the Prince of God.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!