The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon. — Genesis 32:31–32
The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” is from Genesis 32:4—36:43, and the Haftorah is from Obadiah 1:1–21.
Recently, I heard the story of Janine Shepherd, a cross-country skier who was headed to the Olympics in 1986. However, life had other plans for the young athlete. One sunny day while biking with teammates, Janine was hit by a truck. In spite of the odds, Janine survived, but she was considered a partial paraplegic; it was expected that she would never feel very much from the waist down and would most likely never walk again.
Janine defied all expectations and today she walks completely unassisted. However, even more remarkable than her body’s fortitude is the strength of Janine’s spirit. She said, “Although my body might be limited, it was my spirit that was unstoppable.” Janine let go of her dream to be an athlete and instead became an accomplished pilot – and an inspiration to millions of people everywhere.
While telling her story, Janine said something that truly resonated with me. She said that she realized that her pain was really everyone’s pain. Life happens to us all. God sends challenges, often painful ones, to everyone. However, the difference between a life of defeat and a life of victory is our attitude toward those challenges that inevitably come our way.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Jacob’s famous encounter with a mysterious man. The man wrestled with Jacob and eventually injured Jacob’s hip. In spite of the injury, Jacob prevailed. He was victorious over the stranger. However, his injury was seen as so significant and worthy of remembrance that even to this day, Jews do not eat the body part Jacob had injured from any animal. Jacob’s injury is relevant to us all, and every time we go into a butcher shop and recognize the missing piece of meat, Jacob’s injury is remembered in our lives.
You see, Jacob’s injury and subsequent victory reminds us that, like Janine, our spirits are stronger than our bodies. While we might take a hit, our spirit keeps on going. Our spirit is stronger than our circumstances. Our spirit determines our victory.
We all get injured in life. People lose jobs, we lose loved ones, and we literally sustain bodily injuries. However, those things shouldn’t hold us back. In fact, they can ultimately propel us forward. Just before the mysterious man left, Jacob insisted that the man bless him. It is through that encounter that Jacob was blessed and his name changed to Israel: “because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28).
Friends, let’s not let any injury or hurt hold us back in life. Let our spirits be unstoppable, and we will overcome all.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President