About a week and a half after the war started, I somehow injured my hip. I'd had the audacity to bend over at the waist to get something out of a drawer and I felt something pull and snap - not things you want to feel. The pain took my breath away. During the first days after my surprise injury, the pain lessened slightly, but accompanied me at all times. Walking became a chore. Sitting was excruciating. Getting in and out of the car felt impossible. I began carrying a heating pad with me everywhere.
Over the course of the few days it took me to get an appointment with a chiropractor, the pain was on my mind a lot. Preoccupied as I was, it took me a little bit of time to realize that my body was simply manifesting my emotional state. Since the brutal attacks that ignited Israel's war against Hamas, I had been consumed with worry, barely sleeping, trying to connect with my people in Israel and with members of our community who were similarly concerned about loved ones. It was unsurprising that I would bear some physical signs of my mental anguish.
Yesterday afternoon, as I was sitting in the aforementioned chiropractor's office, waiting for my turn, I was reading Parashat Vayishlaḥ, from which we will read this Shabbat. My awareness of my surroundings helped me see a different perspective on the part of our Parashah that details Ya'akov's name change to Yisrael, following a night of wrestling with a mysterious interloper. While he prevailed in the end, he did not emerge from the encounter unscathed. We read that this person wrenched Ya'akov's thigh, injuring his hip. I couldn't help feeling a twinge of recognition.
While traditional midrashim and commentaries generally follow the hints in the Torah text and expand on the idea that Ya'akov's nameless opponent was an angel, I began to feel drawn to a different interpretation of the text. Ya'akov's struggle came on the heels of a great moment of pain and fear. Knowing that he would soon meet his brother, the brother he had terribly wronged, the brother he assumed wanted only to kill him, Ya'akov strategically set his family and entourage up in separate camps and began the night alone. It was only then, when he was left to contend with his thoughts and his fears, that he began to wrestle. Perhaps it was with an angel. Or perhaps it was with himself, with his all-encompassing anxiety about what would happen when he would have to face his brother. All night long, he tossed and turned, waking up in some ways renewed (or at least with a new name), but injured. Perhaps his body was manifesting his emotional state as well.
The story concludes with a coda explaining that this is why the People of Israel do not eat meat from the thigh muscle. Bekhor Shor, a 12th century French commentator, explains that this is a commemoration of Ya'akov's glory and greatness for having wrestled with an angel and prevailed. I think the distinction still holds even if Ya'akov was wrestling with his own difficult feelings, with his fear and anxiety. Our emotional responses to the difficulties we face are real and leave an impact - sometimes a tangible, physical one.
As a Jewish community, we are all continuing to walk through a tremendously difficult time. It is taking its toll emotionally and also physically. Allowing ourselves to acknowledge that is a sign of our strength, of the depth of our humanity. May we continue to find our way through it together.