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The lesson I will discuss here has always been especially powerful for me. It tells how Jacob’s name was changed from Jacob to Israel. Rav Berg shared that this story contains the key of how to gain control of our lives and the Opponent – the source of all of the chaos in this world.
In the literal story, Jacob wrestles all night with the angel of his brother Esau. By morning the angel says to Jacob, “Please release me.” Jacob replies that he will not release the angel until the angel gives him a blessing. Eventually, the angel gives the blessing, changing Jacob’s name to Israel. At the end of the story, Jacob asks for the angel’s name, but the angel does not answer.
There are many kabbalistic secrets in this simple story, but I will just share a few.
The angel represents the ‘evil inclination’, also known as the Opponent, the source of all chaos in this world. When Jacob asked the angel his name, he was basically asking, “What is your essence? How do you operate? How do you bring people down?” The angel answered, “Why do you need to know my name? I am always here. I don’t want people to know my name, I am always hiding.” By identifying the angel, Jacob wanted to equip all of mankind with the main tool of controlling the forces of chaos that wreak havoc in our lives and the world. Interestingly, if you change the sequence of letters in Jacob’s new name, ‘ISRAEL’ –ישראל , you get ‘LI ROSH’ –
לי ראש, which means ‘I am the head’, or in other words ‘I am in control’.
Rav Berg explained that most of the time we are not aware that every second of the day, the Opponent tries to play games with us. This force never rests. Therefore we need to know that when we overcome one challenge, there will always be another challenge waiting. When we fight ego, we always need to be on the lookout for the next layer of ego. As long as we are alive, we have spiritual work to do. We don’t want to be satiated and complacent, thereby blocking the Light from coming into our lives.
If we become satisfied with our spiritual growth, if we are too sure of our tikun, if ‘we’ve got it all figured out’ – then we will most likely be completely controlled by the Opponent, spending our days busy seeing what is wrong with other people and engaging in other negative actions. If, on the other hand, we are humble enough to know that the Opponent is always hiding –to know that we may see one aspect of the situation, but that there is always another level and layer – then we will be open to asking the Light for help, and take control over the forces of chaos in this world.
Another point is that when difficulties arise, we need to have the strength to not get caught up with the immediate problem at hand. The Opponent wants us to be busy with the specific issue that is stressing us, thereby taking us away from the real issues that we need to work on. For example, while we are worrying about bad traffic or an unexpected expense, we may completely overlook how we treat others when we are stressed out, or how we take advantage of people and situations.
When everything in life is amazing, and we feel spiritual and connected to the Light – that is the time to thank the Light for giving us the strength to achieve. At the same time, we need to consistently ask ourselves: How can I stretch myself even more now? What is my next level?
The Opponent is awake 24 hours a day, and if we try to beat him with our own brilliant minds, we have no chance. The portion of Vayishlach grants us the opportunity to recognize that we are blind, and that only by constantly asking the Light for help can we gain control over our lives.