The Struggle's the Thing – Parshat Vayishlach

Nobody likes struggling. Well, maybe not "nobody" but many of us anyway. It's nice to just view a sunset, have your morning coffee or spend time with friends. Struggle is unpleasant, frustrating and simply not my favorite word.

In this week's parsha, Yaakov finds himself struggling against a mysterious stranger.1 There are numerous questions regarding this story, ranging from why Yaakov was alone, to the injury suffered, the identity of the stranger, the changing of Yaakov's name and much more. In this short blog, I will share an amazing insight which I read this week about the new name of Yaakov – Yisrael.

In an alumni publication which my wife received, Rabbi Dr. Seth Grauer noted that the name given to Yaakov after his fight with the mysterious stranger is based not on his success in the struggle with the stranger but on the struggle itself! The new name, Yisrael, shares a root with "sarita" which means you struggled. "It is fascinating to note," Rabbi Grauer writes, "that the name of the Jewish people is not derived from Yaakov's victory but from his struggle. God values the human struggle and we all grow from that adversity. None of us ever wants to be tested in life and we should all pray we aren’t given challenges and tests, but we do recognize and value the growth and development that naturally comes from those struggles."2 To borrow a line from Shakespeare (and play with it a bit) the struggle's the thing wherein I'll catch the resilience of the human being.3

If through the course of our lives we struggle to find meaning in the events that occur. It is not always pleasant. This struggle can be accompanied by a sense of frustration and despair. That should not, though, be viewed as pathological or as a sign of underlying instability. Rather, says Doctor Viktor Frankl that the struggle is actually "a human achievement and accomplishment. Above all, it is a manifestation of intellectual sincerity and honesty."4 Our interest in wanting to grow is what creates that frustration and spurs us on to greater learning and understanding. That search is paרt of who we are as humans.

How refreshing to view struggle in such a positive manner.

Knowing, that in life struggle is an inevitability, let us be prepared to face it.


Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay  


  1. Bereishit 32:25-30
  2. BAS review. Fall 2020, p.3
  3. See Shakespeare's Hamlet end of act II for the original phrase - "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."
  4. Frankl, Viktor E.. The Will to Meaning (p. 67). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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