A Never-Ending Struggle

When I was in university, the assistant chaplain at the Hillel House always referred to Jews as “G-d Wrestlers”! The source for this odd name is in this week’s Torah reading, Vayishlach.

The three Patriarchs of the Jewish people are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But in this week’s Torah portion, Jacob finds himself struggling with the angel of his brother Esau. This was no regular angel; it was also known by the name of Samael, and represented the Evil Inclination in each person. Samael was unable to overcome Jacob, and so as the morning light began to appear, he “hit him below the belt”, injuring Jacob in his thigh. He then informs Jacob that he will have a new name: Yisrael.

Why this name? The angel says:

כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃

“For you have striven with G-d and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:29)

“Striven” is “sarisa” and the letters sin and the resh are taken from there, and the letters aleph and lamed are taken from the name of G-d. Add a yud and the result is Yisrael – Israel.

There you have it: The descendants of Jacob are people who struggle/wrestle/strive with G-d.

But looking back at the verse 32:29, there is one more word here: Overcome, or tuchal in Hebrew. Why was that ignored? Why not call the Jews Yisraelchal: A people who wrestles with G-d and overcomes?

The answer, as I heard from Rabbi Yisroel Brog, is that “overcome” is not always something that happens. For some people, or at some points in everyone’s life, we just STRUGGLE. We wrestle. We try to overcome the challenges facing us that are trying to take us away from being good Jews.

Sometimes we overcome. Great!

But the struggles continue. And they continue throughout our lifetime. Whether these are struggles for studying Torah or keeping the commandments of the Torah, we will always be challenged.

The struggle for Torah is the hardest one. I struggled for a week to write this simple idea; there was always something else to do instead of this. And last week, the struggle was so great I wasn’t able to complete my article on the weekly portion!

But we Jews are “G-d Wrestlers” – in the PRESENT tense. That means we are ALWAYS active in this struggle. Even if we do not overcome, we don’t give up, and instead continue the struggle.

May you continue successfully in your own personal struggles, and even when you fail – and there will always be failures along the way – DO NOT GIVE UP. Just continue as best you can until the next challenge

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