So what do we see Jacob, our thief, our Ego do? He tricks his father Isaac to bestow the blessing on him, and Esau, being likewise angered wishes to harm his brother and so Jacob flees. We know he marries, we know that over the course of years Jacob becomes father to 12 sons. He has achieved all that he has desired through his wit, through his cunning, and because he did this without divine solidarity, he finds that this life of his has become a struggle; we often think of Jacob as a survivor, and marvel at his consequence and his accomplishments but we must remember that survival is not a word that connotes a sense of God’s majesty or the highest goal of living a good life.
Remember, the Ego toils under its own weight. All desires (save one) produce an element of suffering. There is only one true desire that can fulfill the longing of the soul … and we see Jacob come to this point (Gen. 32) in the wilderness. He is waiting for Esau, now years later. His actions are now coming towards him, he is at a moment of judgment, of being held accountable to his higher nature and his family and his life for all the scheming and usurping, he is his choices. And so he has arrived at a moment of Crisis. He has sent his wives, his belongings and all his children across the river ahead of him to hopefully appease his wronged brother (should he ever be able to follow), and he stands alone in the desert. Where non can be save for testing: in the Bible, one is always sent into the wilderness to be tested. For there are no distractions and it symbolizes that point of no return, when you have hit the wall or the bottom of some spiritual impasse, and you may not move from this spot until you have mastered your choices.
Now Jacob has, at this point, already had the Dream of the Ladder moving Angels up and down from Heaven – so he has glimpsed his future and seen that the Lord has approached him, he vowed long beforehand to participate in this moment but a promise is much different that following through. And it is only in the Wilderness that the Ego (our Jacob) must confess his actions and allow the Soul to be transformed into something beyond the mere physical.
He is told in Gen 31:13 “I am the God who appeared to you in Bethel, where you anointed a memorial stone and made a vow to me. Up, then! Leave this land and return to the land of your birth." Leave this land that is full of things densely foreign to you, return to the land of your fathers, the land of spirit, who made you. Do not cleave to the material, come back Home. The Prodigal son is a story told over and over in the Bible, it is here in the Torah and is the same in the Gospels. We (the collective Human soul) are The Prodigal Son.
Here in Gen 32:25 we read that, “Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn, [and] when the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled” (and it continues through Gen 32:28). Now this is an interesting thing that just happened. And more interestingly, there is no description of the man with whom Jacob wrestled actually was. Some say he was an Angel (very popular interpretation by fine artists
over the years) or Jacob’s shadow, an ordinary man or even God himself; here he is alone in the Wilderness, he has arrived at a point of crisis and he knows he can no longer go on doing what he has spent his life doing, because it never comes out the way he planned exactly. Something is amiss, missing, ill fitting, incomplete.
So he has arrived at this moment and the next thing we read about our Jacob is he is wrestling with some force that the Book does not decisively name. And then the man says, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” And what is good to note here is that neither could best the other. They were in a stalemate, they were equal somehow, but this is Jacob’s only hope, he says: “Not until you bless me.” And this is what the Man/Angel/God replied: “What is your name?”
As if to ask: who are you really? I don’t think he was asking in the same manner as someone signing an autograph: “er—who do I make this out to?” But who is asking for the blessing?
In this Jacob has to be honest. He has done everything up until now on his own cunning and it has left him at this convergence point…
When I was in Jackson a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to attend church by M’s mother, and the Pastor was speaking of this same passage, and he says that at this moment Jacob, here, must confess who he really is. And I agree. Jacob must come clean to himself if he wants to transform, he must be sincere in who he has been until now: The thief, the usurper. In order for us to be free of our Ego, we must not only confess, but recognize that we have let it rule our lives and thoughts to this point, and ask for Blessing from the Man, the shadow or the Angel so that we may move on, evolving into what true Humanity was created to be, soulfully Free.
And so with Jacob’s confession we come to verse 29: “Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.’” Now, the word Israel or Yisrael if often translated at “wrestling with God,” and we see this interpretation in the verse, but, it also names the one true & correct human desire: to go straight to God. It is a verb and a path, both. And so Jacob, or the Ego is purified and corrected by Awareness and Grace. And this is a bright story for us on our travels if we seek or rather find ourselves in the Wilderness, that we must not look at ourselves as victims of circumstance but a soul brought to the edge of opportunity for transformation. Like any other moment in the Torah (and even later on, in the Gospels), all we need to do is ask with all our heart, for when we do then we will find the Wilderness Transformed and perhaps we find ourselves not in a place but a state of mine: imbued, alighted, and filled, our mission and our humanness appears: “Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over/surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:5).