Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics for Va-Yishlach

HOW TO WRESTLE WITH INNER STRUGGLES…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YISHLACH

va-yishlach1We all struggle. While adults often think of children as having charmed lives, they often struggle to control the raging and contradictory emotions within them. Children don’t yet have the tools that adults have to manage their passionate emotions, and so their wrestling can be particularly intense. At the same time, adults struggle to manage relationships, a household, finances and professions.

Jacob, in this week’s Torah portion, struggles mightily. Alone in the middle of the night, separated from his family and possessions, he encounters a stranger. Commentators say it is a divine messenger. They wrestle until dawn. The stranger, before leaving, gives Jacob a new name, Israel, which means “one who struggles with G-d”, and then blesses him. The people who are descended from Israel are called by his name.

This story illustrates that struggle can lead to change and personal growth. We can help our children to wrestle with what they are struggling with themselves. By modeling struggle ourselves, rather than keeping our vulnerability under raps, we can show that struggle strengthens rather than diminishes.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about what they can learn from how Jacob worked hard to overcome his struggle.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What do you struggle with?
  • What helps you in your struggles?
  • How can I help you resolve and work through your struggles?
  • How may we work together as a family?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

ISRAEL = TO STRUGGLE WITH GOD…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YISHLAH

va-yishlach3Many people hold back on religion in their lives because they are uncomfortable with the concept of God. Does God exist?How could bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist? These are all questions that people have addressed throughout time. Many sophisticated discussions and answers are imbedded in Jewish texts for adults to encounter and wrestle with personally.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yishlah, Jacob wrestles all night with a mysterious angel representing God. Because Jacob successfully survives this encounter, his name is changed to Israel. The translation of Israel is “to struggle with God”. The Torah is saying that to struggle with God is common. Most people require inquiry and study, as adults, to come to terms with their personal encounter. Jews are not asked to accept complete faith blindly. Jews are encouraged intellectually to encounter God within themselves after studying the wrestling our sages encountered in their journeys to God. It is possible to be a good Jew and have questions about God. In Judaism, actions are more important than faith.

In thinking about God, we can pick up clues all around us, perhaps left for us to find, like the design perfection of the human body and nature’s beauty. Just because we can’t see or touch something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We can’t see oxygen, but we would die without it. Infinity is beyond comprehension yet an integral part of modern science. Love is a powerful feeling that cannot be proven, but it may be a gift of God. Conscience, that little voice inside us, may also be one of God’s gifts. Religion is not about who God is but about what God helps us do.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about God from your personal view and struggles.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you see clues in life to God’s existence?
  • Do you have unanswered questions about how God operates?
  • Do you hold back from religion because of your unanswered questions?
  • How might you begin your personal journey to wrestle with God?
  • How could a journey in life be more important than the destination?

By Fred Claar

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.