[This short text was readily published in the Jerusalem Post last year. Still, it makes sense to compare it with the events that occur in the Church and our search for identity].
This Shabbat Vayishlach\וישלח [And (Jacob) sent (messengers)] is read in Bereishit 32:1-36:43. The haftarah – prophetic version is to be found in Prophet Hosea 11:7-12:12 (Ashkenazim) and Ovadyah 1:1-21 (Sefardim). On the one hand, Ya’akov wrestled a whole night till dawn with a man (ish immo) (Gen. 32:25-33). He fought alone, wrestling with himself and subsequently with God because this struggle was a combat for maturity. In such a situation, souls are compelled to fight against what is invisible, a sort of hidden punching-ball that injures till we reach our identity. We remain alone, as Jacob was that night when he became Israel. Thus, he is the fruit of Abraham’s blessing. Isaac remained alone and obediently accepted his life in full loneliness. Jacob faced a war, wounded his hip and the sinew for ever. In being alone they got the call to have lots of children, more numerous than the sand!
Still, Isaac met Rebecca through the shadchen-servant as he was coming from the outskirts, ba mibo (Gen. 24:63), from outside of what could be considered as the spiritual battlefield for prolonging the blessing, from the outskirts of his self. This loose attitude is en vogue at the moment. It is also a sort of lack of self-determination that shows a lot of sufferings, some hardships in clear and conscious acceptance of who we are. This is one aspect of Isaac’s personality because he mainly acted alone because he trusted God and Abraham. As shown by many rabbis, Abraham similarly treated Ishmael (sending him into exile) and Isaac (substituting him by the ram) in a kind of double Akeidah\עקידה or bond/binding that isolated them for the time of their lives and history. God’s reward to spiritual solitude is get large communities.
This is why Jacob’s petition: “Hagidah-na shemcha\הגידה-נא שמך – please tell me your name” (Gen. 32:30) is so intriguing and significant. This phrase is astonishingly close to gid hanasheh\גיד הנשה – the sinew of the hip/thigh that the Jews are not allowed to eat (Gen.32:33) as it caused injury to Jacob for ever, keeping him limping in the face of God. Why should you know my Name? the question corresponds to the very sinew that allows human beings to walk in discovering life and announce how difficult it may be to assume God’s election. We are rather reluctant to see the close connection that links our interrogating God about His Name with our physical shape that shows the Image and Likeness of God with much precision.
Interestingly, Jacob returns to Isaac’house and can bury him with Abraham at the cave of Machpelah.
The haftarah accounts: “In the womb, Jacob seized his brother’s heel, and with his strength he overcame (Sarah) (an angel of) God. He struggled with an angel and prevailed (Hosea 12:4-5). “sharah/sari”, playing on alternative “shin and sin” consonants, refers to loosening, overcoming of a place, to dwell, take lodging.
Jacob’s wrestling to reaching his “self” is a real face-to-face with God. “The exiled community of the children of Israel who are in Eretz Canaan\ארץ כנען, Tzarfat\צרפת, and the exile of Jerusalem in Sefarad will take possession of the cities. And saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau and then the Lord will have total dominion” (Ovadyah 20).
A disciple of Paul of Tarsus wrote an appealing verse about the strange path we often have to go through, seemingly as tortuous like Jacob’s fight: “In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding blood. You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges” (Proverbs 3:11-12; Deut. 8:5)” (To the Hebrews 12:5-6).