For the week of November 27, 2004 / 14 Kislev 5765
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 32:4 - 36:43
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7 - 12:12

Holding On

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." (Bereshit / Genesis 32:24-26)

All his life Jacob strove to get the things he wanted. Whatever it took, he succeeded. Finally the day came, when he didn't know what to do. He was about to face his twin brother, Esau, for the first time in about twenty years. Jacob had run away to avoid being killed by Esau, who was enraged by Jacob's deceitful, yet successful, scheme to steal their father's blessing. Now years later, as Jacob was about to face Esau, he was terrified.

In his desperation, Jacob asks God for help. And help does come, but in a most unusual way. God himself shows up in human form and wrestles with him (If you have difficulty with the notion of God appearing in this way, e-mail me at

Jacob takes on God in a fashion not unlike the way he has faced other challenges in his life: he holds on.

We read that God saw that he could not overpower Jacob. Since God is all powerful, you might think this is silly. God could have done to Jacob anything he wished. This is evident by the way God so easily dislocated Jacob's hip by simply touching it. Yet even with the injury Jacob holds on until whoever this person was blessed him. The blessing Jacob received reveals something of what it means that God could not overpower him:

Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." (Bereshit / Genesis 32:28)

Jacob's name was changed by God to Israel because he struggled with God and men and overcame. There was something of the way that Jacob struggled with God and people that was commendable. Even when God hurt him, he held on. Not only did he hold on, he continued to pursue God's blessing. This had been the story of his life. Perhaps his understanding of God and life was warped. Certainly his methods of the pursuit of blessings were not good, but pursue them he did.

Somehow Jacob knew that the greatest riches of life were in God, and he strove after them with everything he had. Then when he encountered God himself, he held on even though it hurt.

Too many of us give up on God and life amidst fear and pain. In Jacob God found someone very different. Most of us don't realize how badly messed up the world is because of sin. We get offended by our troubles and turn to things which are poor substitutes for the blessings of God. Jacob on the other hand held on to God, somehow knowing that he was his only help.

To hold on to God is not an easy thing to do. It is easier to give up. Yet to give up is to be lost. To give up is to be cut off from the truth, from life, from eternal rewards. Sometimes it takes everything we have to hold on, but in time we will discover that it is worth it.

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