Telephone Torah Study: Wrestling With God
In this week’s Torah portion— Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)—Jacob wrestles with the divine and for his efforts is renamed Israel. Also, the reconciliation of Jacob/Israel with Esau, the rape of Dinah, the birth of Joseph and the death of Isaac.
Telephone Torah Study, Thursday 4-5pm. To join in on the conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#.
Zvi Bellen’s Torah Queery—“Hey Yaakov Someone is Calling Your Name!”—explores how LGBT peoples sometimes swing back and forth between fear of socio-familial disapproval and a bold rebuke of it:
I never realized this before, but Yaacov is renamed twice in this portion. Both times his new name is Yisrael. He is morphed twice from the One Who Grasps Ankles to the One Who Wrestles with G-d. The first time he is renamed by the man he wrestles with throughout the night. On the second occasion he is renamed by God. On both occasions Yaacov is first blessed and then renamed. An obvious question then is, why the double renaming? Is the man’s renaming not good enough? It seems that there might be a hint to the answer if we look at what transpires between the two naming narratives.
After the first naming Yaacov’s life goes on a rollercoaster of extremes. Yaacov walks away an injured man as he goes to face his brother Esav, and with Esav, he faces his past misdoings. It seems to me that the fear that Yaacov feels is rooted in the fact that he knows that he wronged his brother by sneaking the First Born Blessing from him. Taken at face value, the text suggests that Esav’s expected rage is justified. Yaacov knows that he deserves a good whipping from his big brother.
What happens though? Miracle of miracles! Not only has Yaacov grown up over the years, but so has Esav! They meet, embrace, kiss, and weep. The Torah throws us a total plot twist and we can imagine that Yaacov’s fear is transformed to elation. From here, Yaacov gracefully rejects Esav’s offer for the brothers to sojourn together toward home. Yaacov, with his new limp, wants to take things a little slower, and he settles his family for a time in the city of Shechem.
Torah Passage of the Week
Now Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the rise of dawn. When [the man] saw that he could not overcome him, he struck Jacob’s hip-socket, so that Jacob’s hip-socket was wrenched as [the man] wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go; dawn is breaking!” But [Jacob] said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” The other said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” “No more shall you be called Jacob, but Israel,” said the other, “for you have struggled with God and with human beings, and you have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “Why do you ask my name?” And then he took his leave of him. Jacob therefore named that place Peni’el—“For I have seen God face-to-face, yet my life has been spared.” (Gen. 32:25-32:31)