This week, in Parshat Vayishlach, we read the famous story of Jacob wrestling with an angel. At the end of their long struggle, Jacob refuses to allow to the angel to go, demanding a blessing first. The angel says to him, “your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”
Many years ago, long before I decided to become a cantor, I found myself feeling alienated from my Judaism. Worship seemed empty, and the concepts in the Torah antiquated. I was particularly troubled by the image of Judaism portrayed in the book of Leviticus. I wanted to connect to the faith of my ancestors, but was ready to turn away all together.
That summer, I met a wonderful Rabbi named Rabbi Levy. I expressed my frustration to him, and he told me that I was living up to what it meant to be a good Jew. “Yisrael literally means, ‘One who struggles with G-d,'” he explained. “If you aren’t engaged in the struggle, you’re not really doing it right.” He taught me that we are meant to wrestle with text as Jacob did with the angel. It is only through that grappling that we can discover what it means to us.
I pray that we will all engage in the challenge of Torah and through that, learn to reap the richness that it has to share with us all.
Cantor Sally L. Neff