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Reb Lisa's Messge


November 22, 2023


G-d Wrestling and Perfect Timing.


Torah timing is remarkable, interesting, impeccable. No matter what’s happening – in our lives, in our relationships and communities, or on the global stage – we can inevitably find ourselves in the text and stories.


In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, our patriarch Jacob famously receives a new name.


“From now on, your name will no longer be Jacob. You will be called Israel, because you have wrestled with G-d, and with men, and you have prevailed.” Gen 32:29


Okay. There are so many interesting layers here.


First. A name change (not the first in Torah). Our Biblical ancestor Jacob, who already has a name, a fine name, acquires a new one.


Second. The new name is a word very much on our minds, in our hearts, in the headlines, and threaded through our social media feeds. Israel.


Third. What does this word even mean? We learn something compelling from the text and perhaps this can ground us in distressing, unsettled times.


Consider this word not as one compound word, Israel. A word that brings forward tremendous energy whenever we hear it, because of what it means to and for us right now. Rather consider it as two separate words, as it is meant in the text. yisra - El. Two parts.


yisra: a verb whose root means wrestling, struggling, contending with, persisting, persevering, taking on in a serious way.


and


El: one of the names for G-d, the Source of All Being.


Israel, then, means G-d wrestlers. Those who struggle with G-d. Those who take on, go up against, and contend with G-d in an ongoing intimate, oftentimes turbulent relationship. This feels pretty relatable right about now.


Many of us know this definition of the word Israel. And we understand this aspect of Judaism–where we are encouraged to stand up and challenge G-d. Ask questions. Argue on behalf of the people. Plead for different outcomes. As Jews we are not comfortable simply accepting what’s in front of us. Tradition teaches us to reason with and argue with God. We are permitted to make demands and cry out in an attempt to change what is happening.


And . . . with Torah’s perfect timing, what does the G-d Wrestling aspect of Israel mean for us right now? For those of us who are Jewish, has our own G-d wrestling changed since October 7th? Are our questions different? Are there new angst filled inquiries we want answers to? Perhaps we are mad, confused, in need of comfort from this G-d we wrestle with. For those not Jewish, how does knowing this meaning of the word Israel, “One who Wrestles with G-d”, sit with you? Are you also a G-d wrestler, whatever that means?


If we could raise our voices heavenward and belt out a prayer-demand to this G-d we wrestle with, what would it be? Truly. No holds barred. What would it be? May we have the courage to stay in relationship, even when the wrestling does not seem relevant or worth it. The struggle is real. Let’s show up and prevail, as Jacob did.


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