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Reb Lisa's Message: What’s in a name and how does this affect our identity, our destiny?


We learn in this week’s parasha, Vayishlach, that our Patriarch Jacob has a mysterious encounter with an angel. They wrestle and struggle through the night until dawn. Jacob prevails and acquires the new name Israel, meaning “One who wrestles with God.”


This is a profound ancestral heritage. As Jews, we have an obligation to incorporate this relationship with the Holy One into our lives. What does it mean to wrestle with God? Perhaps we feel empowered to question and push back? Or maybe we wrestle with ideas around the existence of God, or what God means to us?


Last week I mentioned that the Hebrew word for Jew is Yehudi, which is connected to the Hebrew word for thanks and gratitude. In other words Jews are the “Thanking People.”


I have been most intrigued this week with exploring how these two ancestral names interact with each other. How do Yehudi (Jews), the “Thanking People,” and Israel, “God Wrestlers,” fit together?

Gratitude meets wrestling. Is it possible to hold and embody both?


It feels like this has been much of the experience of 2020. When do we struggle and wrestle and push back? When do we feel entitled and empowered to cry out and say, “ENOUGH!” Yes indeed there are times for standing up, advocating, using our power and strength to work toward an outcome we think is best. But what about gratitude? Sometimes we need to stop all of that and say, “Wow, thank you. I am blessed. I have so much.”


As with so many things, the key is discernment. When do I activate the God Wrestler within and when do I relax and lean into Gratitude? In each moment we have this choice. And perhaps we can weave both together as we give thanks for our ability to be God wrestlers!


May we embrace the power of naming. May our names bring out the best and highest in us.



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