Vayishlach

Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

(And He Sent)
Jacob wrestles with a mysterious being on the banks of the Jabbok. He is injured and is given a new name and finally reconciles with his brother.

THE BLESSING

JACOB’S JOURNEY FOLLOWS the course of the ego’s development. Due to the nature of physical embodiment, the soul develops an ego to deal with our helplessness as infants. The ego emerges as a response to the challenge of having to squeeze a vast soul into a particular and limited form.

The small self (Jacob) is sent on a journey to rediscover its essential nature – Soul. Jacob, as ego, is the wheeler/dealer employing every manipulation to get what he needs to survive. On the journey home to the land of the soul, there comes a point where all the manipulations of the ego become useless and irrelevant; and one must stand naked and vulnerable before the truth. In that moment it is possible to receive the blessing of a closer identity with soul, allowing great access to the inner realms and opening the doors to a deeper level of self.

As Jacob journeys home, his past deceptions haunt him and he must confront his own twin brother, the one he had so cruelly deceived and desperately fears. Jacob’s fear is multiplied by guilt and shame about becoming such a con-man. All his manipulations have only strengthened the false self, and that false self must shore itself up with defenses, for it projects the only reality that the ego knows.

Before meeting Esau (who embodies Jacob’s past catching up with him), Jacob (as ego shoring up the false self) does everything possible to ensure his own survival. Jacob gathers intelligence, prepares a stratagem of escape in the event of battle, sends a generous gift of appeasement, and prays to God. Finally, after all his manipulations, Jacob is left alone.

All night long Jacob wrestles with a mystery. All his cunning and defenses are wrested from him that night. He is held in the grip of truth as layers of false self fall away, revealing, at the break of dawn, the soul’s hidden radiance.

ALL THROUGH THE DARK NIGHT we wrestle until our wrestling becomes a dance, and the dance an embrace. At dawn the embrace calls forth a blessing. We are given a new name, and that name represents our true essence. Our new name is the call of the soul. Who am I beneath this personality? Who was there before birth and will survive physical deterioration and death? By identifying with that aspect of existence, which is eternal, we can let our personality be shaped and refined by the power, wisdom and perspective of soul.

The blessing of that dark night on the banks of the river Jabbok is in the name we receive. A true name signifies and holds our essence. It calls forth our true power and sends us on a path towards remembrance.

THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

EVEN AFTER JACOB RECEIVES THE BLESSING of his new name, ‘Israel,’ a reminder of soul-identity, he is still Jacob. For the rest of his story he is called by both names. Even after moments of profound awakening we oftentimes slip back into the habitual manipulations of ego. Even as we awaken the power of soul, we find ourselves tangled in the web that our ego has woven.

Jacob’s sons continue his pattern of deception. Even as Israel he must deal with the karmic legacy of his past. The spiritual challenge is to anchor ourselves in the glimpse of soul we receive. From such points of remembrance, we can face the challenge of acting righteously and responding from our soul wisdom in this moment, despite our shortcomings and flaws.

During Jacobs’s night of wrestling with a mystery, he was injured. Through that injury, God reveals to Jacob the true nature of his flaws. The touch of that moment of Truth left him with a limp, a constant reminder. Thus the inflated ego is humbled. We all need to be vigilant of the tendency of the ego towards inflation and self-deception. As we learn and accept the limitations of our physical, emotional and intellectual powers, the infinite spiritual reality is opened to us. As those doors open, the spiritual challenge is to let go of past identities as we step out of the confines of small self and expand into the unknown.

GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE

Our tradition speaks of five levels of soul:

  • NEFESH – the separate self that is completely identified with the body
  • RUACH – the self that begins to open to divine inspiration
  • NESHAMA – the self that opens to the awareness of the interpenetration of human and Divine, each breathing its essence into the other.
  • CHAYA – pure undifferentiated Life Force.
  • YECHIDA – the self that is completely identified with God

THE PRACTICE FOR VAYISHLACH IS TO RECOGNIZE EACH OF THESE ASPECTS OF SELF IN OUR OWN EXPERIENCE.

I UNDERSTAND NEFESH as the place where most of us learn to live – in separateness, confined to a narrow paradigm of Reality. In moments of alienation I can feel the pain of being stuck in NEFESH.

And then there are moments of inspiration where the RUACH HAKODESH, the Holy Spirit blows into my life, expanding my awareness to the level of RUACH. Here I am moved and my heart opens to the possibility of a wider reality.

The place of NESHAMA is the doorway into higher consciousness, and that door is opened through the practice of God-breathing. Through this practice we can receive glimpses of CHAYA and YECHIDA. Those glimpses can be planted as the seeds of soul growth.

GOD-BREATHING

  1. CLOSE YOUR EYES, sit comfortably and focus all your attention on the breath, following the complete inhale and exhale.
  2. FEEL YOURSELF SURROUNDED by God and when the inhalation is happening receive the breath as God breathing in to you.
  3. LET YOUR EXHALATION be an emptying of self, breathing out from the center, creating a space within you to again receive the Divine essence.
  4. CONTINUE for at least ten minutes.

Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.