If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Daniel Lichman, a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College, selects Bereishit/Genesis 32:25-33
I find myself going back to it time and again. It’s a short text, a tiny story that we learn as children and yet one that seems to grow in meaning on every reading. Perhaps its power is because it’s the text that names us, Israel.
In Bereishit/Genesis 32:25-33, Jacob finds himself alone. He struggles with a mysterious ‘man’ until the break of day. “I will not let go until you bless me,” Jacob says. The man responds: “You shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with man and have prevailed.”
The story is mysterious, strange and fleeting. Who is this man? Traditional commentators suggest that it is an angel with whom Jacob wrestles; modern psychological readings that suggest that Jacob wrestled with a part of himself, with his own repressed shadow self. Jacob leaves the place saying: “I have seen God face to face lived.”
Whoever this ‘man’ is, Jacob experienced him as a manifestation of the Divinity. Yet he seems very different to the God who speaks with language to Abraham or to Moses. Instead, the God of this story seems to emerge through the process of struggle itself. I think that this text calls us, as people of Israel, to this notion of God.
A Divinity that can emerge as we continue to confront who we are, the past events that have formed us and the parts of ourselves that we push away.
Maybe that is why I return to this story again and again, hoping that I, too, can experience, through my own struggles, a sense of the Divine, of the Infinite, and join with Jacob on the painful journey to become Israel and onward through healing to wholeness.