This week’s parashah is Vayishlakh (Bereshit/Genesis 32:4-36:4) in which Jacob prepares to be reunited with his brother Esau. As Jacob waits for the reunion and ponders whether his brother still wishes to kill him, he encounters a stranger in the darkness besides the river Jabok. They wrestle all night long, with neither of them the clear victor. As the sun begins to rise, the stranger realizes that he is unable to prevail over Jacob, he then wrenches Jacob’s hip from its socket and tells him that he must leave for the sun is rising. Jacob demands a blessing from the stranger. The stranger asks Jacob his name. After Jacob responds, the stranger tells him that he will no longer be called Jacob, but he will instead be known as Israel, for he has struggled with beings divine and human (Yisrael, meaning “one who has struggled with God”). Then Jacob asks the stranger his name, to which he replies, “why do you ask my name?” The stranger then disappears and Jacob walks away, limping, to meet his brother Esau.
In the midrash that I wrote for last week’s Torah portion, I imagined that Esau had also run into a stranger at dusk as he was chasing after his brother Jacob after Jacob had stolen Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac. This stranger convinced Esau “not to do as he had done”, and act out murderous revenge against his brother. Noticing the mark on his forehead, Esau realized that the stranger was Cain, son of Adam and Eve, who murdered his brother Abel. This midrash continues, as does the Torah, 20 years later as Jacob prepares to meet Esau.
Wrestling with Redemption
Another sleepless night. How many nights had it been? Jacob could not remember. All he knew was that each night he would awaken from the same dream. A dream in which he faced his brother alone for the first time since he had stolen his blessing from their father through deceit, thus guaranteeing his place as the patriarch of a great nation yet-to-be. (more…)