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    Why did he want a blessing? – Vayyishlach

    Isaac blessing Jacob, by Gustave Dore

    One Shabbat afternoon I was at our local synagogue waiting for a shi’ur to start. A lady came in and asked if someone would give her a blessing. The other people present pointed to me. I went up to her, blessed her (in Hebrew) and wished her a life of happiness, good health and success, and she was happy.

    Our forefather Jacob also wanted a blessing, actually two of them, but the ones he wanted were much more substantial. He succeeded in gaining the birthright that was originally his brother’s. He also secured his father Isaac’s blessing, also originally meant for his brother. Then, in this week’s reading, he wrestled all night with an unidentified assailant and said he would not release his opponent unless he blessed him (Gen. 32:26).

    We might have thought that the blessing from the assailant was, like the earlier blessings, a worldly advantage, but Rashi (on verse 28) says no. The blessing was a new name, no longer Jacob but Israel. The patriarch no longer bears a name that means “supplanter”, alluding to the fact that he supplanted his brother. Now he is Israel, “the prince of God”, who is a new, wiser human being, who does things more for the glory of God than for himself.

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