Yitzhak (Isaac) and Yishmael (Ishmael). Yaakov (Jacob) and Eisav (Esau).
Ruth and Phyllis.
Wait, WHAT?!? They’re not in the Torah.
True, in the literal sense, but not in the figurative sense.
Let me explain…
This week’s parsha, Vayishlach, begins with Yaakov (Jacob) returning to the Land of Israel with his family and all his possessions. He knows that he will encounter his brother Eisav (Esau) on the way and the last time he saw his brother, Eisav (Esau) wanted to kill him.
Yaakov sends messengers ahead and learns that his brother is coming to meet him with 400 men and is therefore, very afraid.
Yaakov divides this family into two groups in case his brother slaughters one of them, hoping one group will be able to escape.
He prays to G!D. He gathers his many animals and divides them into multiple groups and sends them led by a servant, one after another group, to his brother to propitiate him, hoping for mercy.
Then night falls. He sends his family and all of his possessions to the other side of a river and he remains alone.
That’s when the Torah tells us “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of day.” (Bereisheet/Genesis 32:25)
Who was he wresting with if he was alone?
Some commentators say Yaakov is wrestling with himself. Some say he’s wrestling with Esau’s spirit. What if the answer is both?
That’s where Ruth and Phyllis come into the picture.
No, they aren’t in the Torah text, as I wrote previously.
They are my sister and me. As Jews, we are all in the Torah in some form or other reflected in the stories of our ancestors.
And when you have a sibling, especially one close in age (my sister, Ruth, is 3 years younger), you know that part of who you are was formed in relation to part of who s/he is and vice versa.
I was the studious one, so she was the jock.
I was involved with the Drama club, so she was on the Yearbook team.
I was the “good girl” obeying all my parents’ rules, and she was the one that tested them at every turn.
And the more I was me; the more she was her. And vice versa.
Sibling rivalry is a phrase for a reason, even when no one is overtly competing!
We may be unconsciously reacting to what we perceive of one another.
Hence, Yaakov wrestling with himself AND Eisav’s spirit.
Both brothers carry each other— their own innate personalities and their learned personalities in reaction to one another-- in themselves.
It took a trip to Landmark Education for my sister to re-perceive our relationship and stop struggling with me… or what she thought was me.
Only after shifting our perceptions of one another could we build a better, more authentic adult relationship, which we now have, thank G!D!
What can we learn from this?
When you struggle with someone close to you -- your sister, your brother, or some other relative – realize that actually you are struggling with your own self, because their spirit is inside you as well.