For the week of December 14, 2002 / 9 Tevet 5763
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28

Do You See Yourself
as You Really Are?

And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!" (Bereshit / Genesis 46:2).

Most of us probably think that we have consistent personalities. The kind of person we are today is the same as the one we expect to be tomorrow. If a person's personality is very erratic, changing unpredictably moment to moment, day to day, we may consider that they may have a mental illness.

I think that most people are probably somewhere in between these two extremes. Most of us are not as consistent as we think we are, but not completely erratic either. Most of us have intentions that we don't fulfill. At times we are moody. Our behavior is dependant on all sorts of things - from the weather to the traffic.

People who have had profound spiritual experiences often see themselves in an even better light than other people do.

These experiences can indeed have a dramatic effect on us. The chronically depressed may find themselves free from depression for the first time in many years. Others who have struggles with various phobias, may never fear those things again.

But not everybody experiences such clear cut transformations. While some people may find themselves completely transformed, others may still struggle with the difficulties of the past. These struggles may even lead some to wonder if the changes were real.

This week's parasha may give us some perspective. Jacob had certainly undergone a major spiritual transformation when he encountered God prior to his dreaded meeting with his brother, Esau. One of the things that happened to him is God gave him a new name (Bereshit / Genesis 32;28). Just like his grandfather Abraham, whose name was originally Abram (Bereshit / Genesis 17:5), Jacob was told that he would no longer be called by his original name, but by his new name, Israel.

Names in that culture signified much more than just a label. A person's name expressed the person themselves. In Jacob's case, his original name referred to his striving, while Israel represented his new relationship with God.

Yet there was a great difference between Jacob and Abraham. Abraham was never referred to as Abram again, while Jacob was sometimes called Israel and other times still Jacob. The verse quoted above is a vivid example of that. We read there that God spoke to Israel, yet called him Jacob. This is very interesting given that God himself said he would not be called Jacob any more.

This may be an indication that while Jacob did indeed experience a great transformation, he still struggled with aspects of his earlier life.

For some people an encounter with God brings much good into their lives, but they are not as transformed as they would like to think.

It is likely that God used both names to help Jacob see where he was really at. Pretending that he was one hundred percent "Israel" was not going to help him at all. His continued struggle did not mean that he lost the right to call himself Israel or think of himself as Israel. He had definitely changed. His relationships to God and to others were different and would never again be what they were in the past. But if the struggle is present, it is best to be aware of it.

Like Jacob, just because we struggle with the things of the past doesn't mean that the good things that God has done in our lives aren't worth anything. But in order to be what God wants us to be, we need to see ourselves for what we truly are.

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