Parashat Vayishlah

Transformative Encounters

To be a Jew is to be as Jacob: struggling, transforming, and inspiring to others.

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Our challenge, since we are lacking something as concrete as a new name or a limp, is to retain the sharpness and urgency of life-changing experiences that tend to fade over time when we return to every-day life. We need a way to hold on to these experiences, to make our discomfort productive, to lead us to take action.

Zornberg goes on to say that "[Jacob] wants to become Israel, by mastering the angel. The wrestling match is an occasion for clarification, for discovery of the parameters of personal power (The Beginning of Desire, p. 235)." Our own wrestling with injustice should help us gain clarity and discovery; to find our full "personal power" as change-makers. 

Transformation & Inspiration

One way to do this is to share the experience and help others to be transformed. While Jacob's injured thigh was an internal reminder of his transformative encounter, his change of name was a public sign that would become the name for the entire Jewish people. In this case, the power of an individual's experience affects the consciousness of the collective. We learn from this that it is not enough to wrestle alone; rather, we must push others within our communities and governments to act as well.

Let us not only witness hunger, disease, and poverty. Let us be transformed by what we have encountered and, with our communities, let us go to our personal limits to seek domestic and global change. The name "Israel" is descriptive and prescriptive. To be a Jew is to be as Jacob: to struggle, to be transformed and stretched by experience, and to inspire a nation defined by action.

And as Jacob realizes when he says, "I have seen a divine being face to face", the struggle is holy.

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Alana Alpert

After receiving rabbinic ordination from Hebrew College in June 2014, Alana will serve as the Rabbi/Organizer of Project Micah in Detroit, an exciting collaboration between Congregation T'chiyah and the Harriet Tubman Center. A trained community organizer, educator, and service-learning facilitator, she has worked in a number of Jewish and interfaith social justice organizations. She is passionate about the intersections of spiritual practice and social change.