VaYishlach: Wiser by the Wound

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
2 min readDec 7, 2022

On the eve of his fraught reconciliation with Esau, Jacob is engaged in a wrestling match that lasts the night. In the end, Jacob is left with a wound which will cause him to limp for the rest of his days, along with a new name.[1] Until this point, Jacob was so called because he held his brother’s heel as they were being born.[2] Through his life, Jacob has stood defined by his desire not just to emulate his brother, but to replace him, to grab someone else’s identity, defining himself in relation to others. Jacob will now be known as Israel, “God Wrestler,” for actions he took himself; an identity he earns through a radically honest inner grappling. As a result, these two marks of name and maim become complementary.

To walk through the world as a mature person is to limp, bearing our wounds. None of us go through this world and emerge unscathed.

With that understanding, the question we then have to answer is what to do with the damage we incur. Can we become wiser by the wound?

As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches “if you believe that you can curse, believe that you can heal.[3]

Our task is to transform our wounds into teachers, to grow after difficult experiences. (Post-traumatic growth, PTG, is a theory that explains this kind of transformation following trauma.)

It is crucial that we recognize Jacob’s personal transformation came about through struggle and the courage embodied in his response to it. His new sense of self would be his own, not one based on hiding behind furs and false intentions. His wounds would become teachers rather than tormentors, driving him towards his self-realization rather than away from it. This is not a celebration of pain, God forbid, but rather of reclamation of health and worth.

To be in deep relationship with others can mean unintentionally causing hurt and being hurt. We all make mistakes. Sometimes it will mean the end of the relationship, but it can also, God willing, allow us opportunities to apologize, to become more compassionate, more empathetic, and more ourselves. Both partners must do this work in order for the relationship to stand a chance at (re)becoming healthy. It is hard. It is not always possible. But it is worth the work to try.

Our Rabbis are unsure who Jacob’s opponent was in the great wrestling match.[4] But whether it is about Jacob wrestling himself, God or Esau, aren’t those just three ways of saying the same thing? To have a deep relationship with God, I need to know myself. And knowing myself enables deep relationships with others.

May we live up to our name as the Children of Israel, walking through life with our kindred wounded fellow human beings, finding ourselves stronger and more whole with every step.

[1] Gen. 32:24–33

[2] The name Jacob is related to the Hebrew root עקב which has several meanings, including “heel.” See Gen. 25:26.

[3] Likutei Moharan, Part II 112:1:1

[4] Breisheet Rabbah 77:3