Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." Genesis 32:28
The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, which means "and he sent," is from Genesis 32:3-36:43, and the Haftorah is from Obadiah 1:1-21.
In this week's Torah portion we learn that after struggling with a mysterious man and winning, Jacob was given the name Israel. "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel . . ." Why did Jacob earn this particular name? " . . . because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." I am reminded about a story that gave me a new appreciation for what Jacob had done to earn his name and how we can all do the same.
In 1992, Derek Redmond was favored to win the gold medal in the 400-meter sprint at the Barcelona Olympics. About 150 meters into the race, Derek felt a searing pain. He fell to the ground in agony with a torn hamstring. Refusing to give up, Derek got up and hobbled on for another 50 meters. A man broke through security and came to Derek's side.
It was his father, who told him, "You don't have to do this." Through pain and tears, Derek replied, "Yes, I do." "Then we're going to do this together," his father said. Together, the two of them finished the race long after the other runners had crossed the finish line. More than 65,000 people rose to their feet and gave Derek a standing ovation.
Since that fateful day in Barcelona, Derek has become an inspiration to millions. The footage of his amazing perseverance has been featured in ads for Nike and Visa, and Derek became a motivational speaker. His story inspires and encourages as he proved that one can persevere through struggles and succeed. The image of Derek and his father straggling across the finish line serves as a good reminder that in our journey through life we need the help and support of others to make it through.
When Jacob wrestled with the man who attacked him, he was injured on his thigh. But Jacob didn't give up or give in. He persevered and succeeded. His struggle is a metaphor for life when things get tough. When we go through trials and meet adversity, we are often "injured." We fail, we fall, and we get hurt. However, as Derek showed the world, victory doesn't go to the one who never fails; it goes to the one who keeps on going, the one who struggles and perseveres.
This trait of perseverance is what entitled Jacob to the name Israel. The name itself contains the Hebrew words that mean both "struggle" and "nobility." This is because we earn our nobleness by persevering through our struggles. When we hold on to faith in spite of our difficulties, when we hold fast to prayer, when all hope seems lost, we earn that title of honor.
Jacob's legacy encourages us to persevere. Even when we are hurt and even when we are limping, we need to put one foot in front of the other and continue to walk in faith with our Father. Together, we will reach our goals.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President