Night is supposed to be the time that we are able to lay our heads down and rest. A time to let go of everything from the day, rest our bodies in order that we may rise up in the morning, renewed and refreshed in order to begin a new day.
We recite the blessing, hashkiveinu ADONAI Eloheinu l’shalom, cause us O God to lie down in peace that we may rise up again in peace. And then the final words on our lips as we go to sleep are Shema Yisrael, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad, listen Israel, ADONAI is our God, ADONAI is one.
But sometimes night is not as restful as we hope it to be. In the quiet we are sometimes awakened by all the activity in our heads and there is nothing we can do but lift ourselves up from our beds and wander through the halls of the house.
Jacob, Ya’akov, was not a very sound sleeper either. He could not sleep as he awaited his reunion with his brother, Esau, whom he stole his birthright and blessing from so many years before. Jacob’s life, up until this point, had been one of deception and trickery. From his birth when Esau pulled Jacob back into the womb in order to be born first, to his mother’s hand in helping Jacob procure the blessing meant for Esau from their father Isaac, to the deception of his father-in-law, Laban who tricked Jacob into marrying his eldest daughter Leah first, rather than the one Jacob loved, Rachel. And now, here he slept on the shores of the Jabbok awaiting the brother he was sure wanted to kill him. No, he could not sleep soundly that night.
When Jacob wandered the shore we read:
Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Ya’akov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:25-29)
Jacob was finally freed of from this life of deceit and fear. Our Sages teach us that names in TaNaKH, the Bible, are connected with a person’s characteristics, personality and destiny. The change of Jacob’s name to Yisrael is a final purging of his challenged past to a new beginning of his life that will be blessed and that we will be blessed by.
When we lie down and recite the Shema, we know that there are times in our day that we struggle. And when we say, “Listen Yisrael” it is our personal reminder that we are allowed to rest. It is a reminder that throughout our lives, we experience change and renewable moments. It is a call that while we wrestle through the challenges of our days we also find blessings in the works of our hands. Yet through our day to day wrestling, we are transformed, for every experience is an opportunity to learn, grow and prevail.