Wrestling with Yourself, Part 2

by Bob Schwartz

The previous post about the biblical episode of Jacob wrestling with a man or an angel or God is entitled Wrestling with Yourself. Why so?

In the family saga, Jacob comes from a long line of people on an important mission, which mission they use as a rationalization for some sharp practices and lying. Abraham lies about his wife, saying she is his sister. Isaac lies about his wife, saying she is his sister. Jacob lies to his father Isaac, with a plan devised by his mother, saying he is his brother and stealing his brother’s blessing. After the wrestling episode, Jacob’s sons will lie to him, saying their brother is dead, while in fact they have left him to be taken into slavery.

We wonder just what sort of entity Jacob is wrestling with. The Hebrew word ish makes it sound as if it is a man, but the details of the story say otherwise. One enlightening view says that Jacob was actually wrestling with himself. Given his history and the history of the family, such psychological conflict is understandable.

The wrestling match ends in a tie, that is, Jacob refuses to give up, even though he is injured. This is exactly what happens if you wrestle with yourself. You can’t win, but if you don’t give up, you can’t lose either. At best, you come out of the match transformed. Hurt and pained, perhaps, but different enough to merit a new name.

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