This week our patriarch Jacob wrestles with an angel. Or is it a person? Or is it God? Or is it his own insecure self?  The biblical text is purposely vague on this. But one thing is certain: It’s a momentous moment.

A man returning home after many years, about to meet his brother Esau, from whom Jacob stole the family blessing, the means to inherit the Covenant.

So there he is, alone, worried that the meeting with his twin will not go well, and he encounters this being.  They wrestle through the night until just before sunrise.  The being asks Jacob to let go, but Jacob, ever the bargainer, says that he won’t do it until this being blesses him.  The being says, you are no longer Jacob, you are now Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.

And that’s the heart of the matter for Jacob/Israel, and that’s the heart of the matter for us.

We are always wrestling; we’re a people of wrestlers.  We wrestle with our conscience; we wrestle with each other; we wrestle with God.  And it’s a hard row this constant struggle to understand who we are as individuals, who we are as Jews, who we are in relation to God, the self, the community, the infinite.

But it’s a worthwhile struggle. Jacob’s wrestling all night with that being teaches us that, though the struggle exists, it’s a struggle that, if we work hard at it, ends in blessing.  We may not earn a change of name, but we can earn our name as we make our way through this world and this life.

Hag Hanukkah Sameach,

A Happy and Very Healthy Hanukkah,
Rabbi Phil M. Cohen

PS. I have been honored with an appearance at the Detroit Jewish Book Fair. I’ll be appearing with Jamie Krakover in a session called: What Could Go Wrong: Jews in Futurist Fiction. It will take place on Tuesday at 10:00 am Central. This link will get you there: