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Parashat Vayishlach - 5777

Dear friends,

From Jacob (Yaakov) to Israel (Yisrael). What's in a name?

Our father Jacob was in a world of conflicts and threats to his and his family's existence from the very beginning. Already in his mother's womb he struggled with his twin brother Esau. Esau was born first and was, therefore, the heir to the Abrahamic traditions, but Jacob was holding on to Esau's heel as if to say, "You don't deserve it, the birthright is mine." That's why they called him Yaakov, from the word Akev, heel.

This name if reinforced when he gains the birthright by taking advantage of a hungry Esau, who is willing to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. When Esau finds out that Jacob had received his father's blessings that were meant for Esau, he says, "Was he, then, named Yaakov, Jacob, that he might supplant me these two times? First he took away my birthright and now he has taken away my blessings!"

In last week's Parasha when Jacob flees to Haran we read of twenty years of conflict between him and his father in law, Laban. After working seven full years for the right to marry his first love, Rachel, he is misled and given her sister Leah. He must now work another seven years to get Rachel. He spends a total of twenty years working for Laban and his remuneration is changed time and again, always for the benefit of Laban. There is much rivalry between his wives and children.

In this week's Parasha, Vayshlah, Jacob is returning to Canaan and he is not sure how Esau feels about him. Maybe after twenty years all is forgotten and forgiven, or maybe Esau still intends to kill him? Jacob finds out that, indeed, Esau is coming to meet him with a company of 400 men. That's not a good sign. He prepares a huge gift that he sends to his brother consisting of hundreds of heads of livestock, hoping that Esau would be appeased.

The night before the big meeting, the Torah describes a mysterious being wrestling with Jacob. They wrestle the entire night and when this man cannot prevail over Jacob, he asks Jacob to let him go. Jacob says, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man says to him, "What is your name?" Jacob replies, "Jacob." The man says, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed." The man disappears and Jacob goes on limping on his hip, the result of the injury he sustained in this fight. In this same Parasha we read:

"G-d appeared to Jacob and blessed him. G-d said to him: 'You whose name is Jacob, you shall be called Jacob no more, but Israel shall be your name.'" (Genesis 35: 9,10)

What's in a name?

It would seem that that long night before meeting his brother, when Jacob was all alone and had a chance to reflect on his life and the past twenty-some years, he realized that his behavior was not good. The wrestling was within his soul and he must have decided there and then that things must change. When he meets his brother Esau and implores him to accept his gift, there is a slip of the tongue when, rather than saying 'accept my gift', he says 'accept my blessing' as if to say, "Please, take your blessing back. Having stolen your blessing has brought me more sorrow than joy."

After this episode, we learn that Jacob arrived "shalem, to the city pf Shechem in the land of Canaan". What is the meaning of 'Shalem', besides meaning safe? It also means 'whole', 'complete', 'peace'. It is a different person entering Canaan - he is 'Israel', the name that this land will become known by - 'Eretz Yisrael', the Land of Israel.

I believe that Jacob's wrestling has an important message for everyone of us. We all make mistakes. There is always an opportunity for change. We can feel whole again, and be at Shalem, or Shalom, peace, with ourselves if we face life as Yisrael, which contains the word Yashar, honest, and Sar, prince or officer. Be proud of all you do, and do everything in the proper and right way.

Shabbat Shalom,