It’s been twenty two years and Yakov is on his way back home. He left home with only a staff in his hand. Now he is returning to Canaan from far off Haran with his wives, Rachel and Leah, and two concubines he has since married, Bilha and Zilpah. His family now consists of eleven sons (Binyamin not yet born) and many servants and animals. He is a wealthy man; but, living in fear not only for his life, but also for his entire family.  Yakov is aware of his brother’s uncontrollable passions, and the report that Esav was approaching with 400 men added to his fear. Yakov makes a decision; first, to approach his brother with humility and offering gifts of peace and love. Secondly, Yakov prays for salvation and communicates with Hashem that it was HE that ordered him home promising that this land will one day be his and his children’s for eternity. (Yakov prays for heavenly assistance that his brother should make peace with him and not war.) Lastly, he prepares himself and his people for the worst; he prepares for war. After crossing the Yabbok River, Yakov is left alone and, the Torah details a heroic struggle in which Yakov, wavering, fearful, on the verge of despair; overcomes his uncertainty and renews his faith in Hashem.  

He combats a mysterious stranger until early morning when the sun is about to rise, and the mysterious stranger asks to be allowed to leave in the midst of their struggle. Yakov asks for a blessing and is rewarded with a new name, Yisrael. Yakov realizes that he has fought with the angel of death (the angel of his evil brother Esav).  His name has been changed from the one which denoted deceit and trickery to “Yisrael,” contender with God, a name to be carried by all his descendants to this very day. 

He is no longer Yakov, the supplanter, the deceiver, who survived by his wits, he is now Yisrael the one who strove with Hashem; he is now the champion of Hashem.  Henceforth his descendants are the Bnai Yisrael, (the children of Israel). 

His prayers answered, and now greatly encouraged, Yakov goes on to meet his brother whom he treats with the utmost deference.  After they meet and embrace Esav returns to his evil ways and Yakov continues on to Shechem where he camps and calls the place Sukkot.

The Parsha teaches us that instead of reproaching Hashem, Yakov examined himself, and in honest humility felt himself lacking.  The right path is not an easy one, but if one sincerely wants an answer it may well be a direction worth exploring.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabe Elias

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