WE STRUGGLE – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon – Vayishlakh – Gen.32-36
On the way home from Haran to Beer Sheba, Jacob camps for the night. Knowing that his brother Esau is still his enemy, and was seen coming to meet him with 400 men presumably armed for war, he divides his people and property into two camps. Leaving the women and children and the animals and their herders on the near side of the river, he himself crosses the river and sets up his own camp on the far bank. A decoy, if you will, to occupy Esau’s expected attack and thus save most of Jacob’s family. He pauses to reflect on the change in his fortune since his trip to Haran. “With my staff I crossed this river. And now I became two camps!” He gives thanks. And then he lies down.
But he does not sleep. “A man wrestled with him until dawn.” Was his opponent really a man, a human being? Or was he an angel? The Torah does not come out and say as much, but the hint is there. The word ish – a man – is interpreted as the guise this supernatural attacker used. And when asked for his name, he refuses to give it. Unable to beat Jacob, he says “release me, for day is breaking.” Clearly he operates only at night. Jacob understands that this is no ordinary wrestler. So he says “I will not release you until you bless me.” What he does is give Jacob a new name. That new name is Israel, from the word sarita – “you struggled” – as he explains, “you struggled with gods and with men, and you prevailed.” In Jacob’s case, his struggle triumphed over Laban’s idols in Haran, as well as over the tricky father-in-law himself, and now over this mysterious attacker sent to test him, and hopefully over his murderous brother. For his descendants from that day to this, the struggle pitted them against physical, spiritual and political enemies worldwide.
Yes, the very name Israel signifies struggle. And here is another fact about that name. Hebrew words all have 3-letter roots. So does this name. Its root word is S-R-H – the identical letters in the name of our people’s mother Sarah, Jacob’s grandmother. She, too, had her struggles. It was her persistence that convinced Abraham to make Isaac his principal heir, and not Ishmael. So she, too, prevailed.
To all the Sarahs and all the Jacobs of ancient and modern times, listen to the Torah sayingvatukhal – “You prevailed!”