Jacob the Wrestler

Does it ever feel like the life of faith is a constant struggle? Is it sometimes hard to hold on to God? Learn a lesson from Jacob the wrestler.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1855 illustration by Gustave Doré. Image: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Vayishlach

Regular Shabbat Readings

  • Vayishlach (וַיִּשְׁלַח | He sent)
  • Torah: Genesis 32:3-36:43 *
  • Haftarah: Hosea 11:7-12:12, Obadiah 1:1-21
  • Gospel: Matthew 2:13-23

Torah and Haftarah chapter/verse references are taken from the Hebrew Bible. Christian Bible references vary slightly when indicated with a *.

Regular readings above are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the current Torah Portion Schedule for all these variations, and special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 32:3 | Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau
    • Genesis 32:22 | Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
    • Genesis 33:1 | Jacob and Esau Meet
    • Genesis 33:18 | Jacob Reaches Shechem
    • Genesis 34:1 | The Rape of Dinah
    • Genesis 34:25 | Dinah's Brothers Avenge Their Sister
    • Genesis 35:1 | Jacob Returns to Bethel
    • Genesis 35:16 | The Birth of Benjamin and the Death of Rachel
    • Genesis 35:27 | The Death of Isaac
    • Genesis 36:1 | Esau's Descendants
    • Genesis 36:15 | Clans and Kings of Edom
  • Prophets
    • Hos 11:1 | God's Compassion Despite Israel's Ingratitude
    • Hos 12:2 | The Long History of Rebellion
    • Oba 1:5 | Pillage and Slaughter Will Repay Edom's Cruelty
    • Oba 1:10 | Edom Mistreated His Brother
    • Oba 1:17 | Israel's Final Triumph

Portion Summary

The eighth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayishlach, which means "and he sent." The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, "Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom" (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the Promised Land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob's adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel.


In this week's Torah portion, Jacob is assaulted by an unknown assailant in the darkness of night. Jacob wrestles him down and refuses to let go of his mysterious assailant, even demanding a blessing of him. The assailant asks him, "What is your name?" As Jacob holds on to the man with all his strength, he answers, "Ya'akov" meaning "Heel-grabber." The name is a reference to his talent for not letting go. It is a wrestling name.

Then the man said, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov, but Yisrael (ישראל); for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:28)

Jacob wrestles with God. He struggles with God and men. He struggled with God for the blessing. He struggled with Esau for the blessing, with Isaac for the blessing, with Laban for the blessing, and in each struggle he eventually prevailed. He is Jacob the wrestler. Jacob pursued a life of wrestling because he recognized that the blessing of God was worth the struggle. A thing for which Esau was willing to trade a bowl of soup, Jacob was willing to wrestle for his whole life. We learn from Jacob the value of the eternal. We learn to hold on to God, and to refuse to let go of Him.

Too often we are quick to let go of Him. When He does not answer our prayer, we let go of Him. When He smites us, when He touches our hip or strikes us, we let go of Him. Jacob did not let go. And God didn't want him to let go. Neither does He want us to let go. He wants a people that will hold onto Him, cling to Him, grasping His heel through the dark night.

We do not understand why God conceals Himself when He could reveal Himself. We do not understand why we must grope in the darkness to apprehend Him, or why He leaps on us in the metaphorical darkness of life, but He does. He certainly does.

Probably our darkness is self-imposed. From Jacob's story, we learn that there are two kinds of people in this darkness. There are those who will hold on to God and those who will not. Modern man says, "I can't see Him, and I can't hold on to what I cannot see." A person overcomes only by emulating our father Jacob, who did not let go—even in the darkness.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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