Parashat Vayishlah

Transformative Encounters

To be a Jew is to be as Jacob: struggling, transforming, and inspiring to others.

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Our challenge, since we are lacking something as concrete as a new name or a limp, is to retain the sharpness and urgency of life-changing experiences that tend to fade over time when we return to every-day life. We need a way to hold on to these experiences, to make our discomfort productive, to lead us to take action.

Zornberg goes on to say that "[Jacob] wants to become Israel, by mastering the angel. The wrestling match is an occasion for clarification, for discovery of the parameters of personal power (The Beginning of Desire, p. 235)." Our own wrestling with injustice should help us gain clarity and discovery; to find our full "personal power" as change-makers. 

Transformation & Inspiration

One way to do this is to share the experience and help others to be transformed. While Jacob's injured thigh was an internal reminder of his transformative encounter, his change of name was a public sign that would become the name for the entire Jewish people. In this case, the power of an individual's experience affects the consciousness of the collective. We learn from this that it is not enough to wrestle alone; rather, we must push others within our communities and governments to act as well.

Let us not only witness hunger, disease, and poverty. Let us be transformed by what we have encountered and, with our communities, let us go to our personal limits to seek domestic and global change. The name "Israel" is descriptive and prescriptive. To be a Jew is to be as Jacob: to struggle, to be transformed and stretched by experience, and to inspire a nation defined by action.

And as Jacob realizes when he says, "I have seen a divine being face to face", the struggle is holy.

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Alana Alpert

Alana Alpert earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Studies from the University of California in Santa Cruz. She is currently studying at the Conservative Yeshiva and volunteering with organizations working toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.