What Does It Mean To Wrestle With God And Prevail?

How Jacob Becomes Israel

Rabbi David Fohrman
Rabbi David Fohrman


In Parshat Vayishlach, we read about the strange encounter between Jacob and the mysterious, unnamed “man” who wrestles with him. At the end of the encounter, the man declares that Jacob now possesses a new name – Yisrael, Israel – for he struggled with God and man, and prevailed.

This moment is clearly meant to be profoundly significance. And yet it leaves us with so many unanswered questions. For instance, what is the man referring to when he says that Jacob “struggled with God and man and prevailed”? Is that a reference to their fight, or does it mean something else? Further, what did Jacob do to warrant a name change – did Jacob’s character undergo some sort of radical shift? If so, what was it? Lastly, how does this new name compare to his previous name, Jacob – is it just different, or is it somehow a kind of improvement?

Join Rabbi Fohrman as he takes a close look at Jacob’s life, and discovers a pattern in the way Jacob interacts with everyone around him. This pattern may illuminate the cryptic words of the mysterious figure – and teach us how we can all be more honest and trusting people.