Ten-plus years of Velveteen Rabbi
Seeing the wrestle as a blessing: thoughts on Vayishlach

The nighttime wrestle - a pearl of Torah for Vayishlach

In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob wrestles with a stranger all night until dawn and receives a new name as a blessing. I'll say more about that in the d'var Torah I'm offering on Shabbat at my shul (which will be posted here on Sunday, as usual.) Today I'm sharing a tiny teaching adapted from the Degel Machaneh Efraim, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov.

In the line "a man strived with him until dawn," the Degel sees a reference to how each of us will struggle in life -- with our impulses and inclinations. Each person has two impulses or inclinations, the yetzer ha-tov (good inclination) and the yetzer ha-ra(bad inclination.) We enter the world, he says, as holy souls, and the evil inclination has no sway over us. But this inevitably changes as we grow up and move into the working world, and we come to imagine that there are things we "have to do" to make a living. He lists lying or cheating others; I suspect each of us can think of times when we've justified choices about which we secretly don't feel so great.

Each of us will experience struggle with our own yetzer ha-ra -- and the struggle may be fiercest, somehow, during the black of night. All of our troubles, fears, and anxieties feel worse during the night. (Anyone who has struggled with insomnia knows this all too well.) But when the dawn comes, he says, our struggles are illuminated and we can recognize things for what they are.

A blessing for all of us: during these last days of parashat Vayishlach, may we be gifted with light which illuminates our troubles and our mistakes so that we can see them clearly and can emerge unafraid.

Shabbat shalom!