Vayishlach 5760

Tora - Torah

Parshat Va'yishlach 18 Kislev 5760 November 27, 1999

Tora Dojo Teachers and Parents: If you share and discuss the Tora-Torah with younger students, tell it in your own words at their comprehension level rather than try to read it to them or have them read it.

Our Parsha this week includes Yaakov (Jacob) wrestling with the angel and getting his new name Yisrael (Israel). This certainly makes it an ideal Parsha for Tora-Torah… so this week’s offering is a little longer.

First, we, as part of Tora Dojo, spend many hours learning to ‘wrestle’ or use our martial arts to preserve life. Also, we each strive as well to be a Godwrestler, a peaceful warrior who tries to use the skills of Kavana (disciplined spiritual imagination) we learn from Tora Dojo to draw closer to Hashem in our lives. Finally, when we reach a certain level of achievement (Black Belt or Grand Mastery) we are given a new name.

The Way of the Jewish Peaceful Warrior

First things first. There are some important lessons in our Parsha about balance within life-combat. In terms of the strength part of ‘wrestling’ (the yang side), we see amazing specifics in the Parsha. Looking at Rashi in 32:25-26, we see that Rashi suggests that the word va’ye’avek (and he wrestled) means he used his arms and legs to ‘tie’ him up and uproot him. Yaakov knew his chin’na or jiu jitsu! When that didn’t work, and the two each neutralized each other, the angel/man used knowledge of acupuncture to disrupt the sacral plexus (the source of the sciatic) to cut off his root to the earth energy [l’sharesh sharshayhen, says Rashi], to uproot him completely. Clearly, stance, grappling skills, rooting and knowledge of the energy dynamics of the body are essential to become a Godwrestler! They certainly were for Yaakov.

In terms of the ‘yin’ or yielding part of being a ‘peaceful’ warrior, let’s look at the technique Yaakov used later in the Parsha to deal with Esav. Yaakov learned that balancing these power skills (the yang) with yielding or vulnerability (the yin) might also be a major Godwrestler technique. How?

We are taught that Esav was a reincarnation of Cain (with his compulsion to kill) while Yaakov was a reincarnation of Abel. During Yaakov’s twenty years of ‘working out’ while living with Lavan, he repaired his own wounded soul and achieved balance. But his next action, when he met Esav after twenty years, showed how he could ‘defeat’ him by helping to repair Esav’s soul as well.

When about to confront Esav, he sent goats, camels and sheep. These represent strength balanced with compassion and kindness. Strength: goats are izim from az or strength; that is, gevura. Compassion: camels are gamal orgemilut chasadim; that is, tif’eret. Kindness: sheep are known to be soft-hearted, representing chesed… the movie ‘Babe’ notwithstanding. (Based on The Alef-Beit by Ginsberg).

The lesson is: by preparing ourselves to deal with life with the balanced techniques of both rooting and yielding we will be better prepared to handle our problems in life.

What’s in a Name?

And now to another important element in the Parsha: Yaakov receiving his new name, Yisrael. Previously, Hashem changed Avram’s name to Avraham (and never again was he called Avram). His name represented his mission and, after his Bris with Hashem, his mission had expanded. His mission was to bring the Torah and knowledge of one God to the world. This was also the mission of Yitzchak all his life.

Yaakov’s mission was divided. Like his father and Grandfather, he had to bring one God and Torah to the world. But he had to do something else: he had to create B’nai Yisrael, the Jewish people. For the former part of the mission, he was Yaakov and for the latter he was Yisrael. This followed the division of Leah and Rachel. Leah’s job was to create the nation (which is why her children reacted to Dinah’s abduction by Shechem the way they did. Rachel’s mission (and later Yoseph) was as the shepherdess who went out to the well and dealt with the rest of the world. Yaakov/Yisrael had a dual mission and so needed two names.

As I tell parents at a Brit Milah, a name is not just a label; it’s a spiritual agenda! Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov taught that when the angel asked Yaakov what his name was before blessing him, this taught us a very valuable lesson. Before giving a blessing to someone we must first know who he or she is and how their name expresses them so far. Then the blessing that one gives them reveals their soul, bringing down new energies that express their name in different ways than before.

Do we each have a destiny that is planned out for us before we’re born that is reflected or hidden within our name? Do we ever learn what that destiny is? Perhaps we lose that memory early in life so that we have the challenge of trying to remember it during our lives.

It would seem that the supreme importance of free will (our ‘prime directive’) might seem paradoxical along side the notion that the basic plan is already set. In spite of that, many different traditions (not just our own) seem to be quite clear on the existence of a basic game plan. Yes, we have free will and when the pivotal moments arrive to fulfill our destiny we can change our minds and our direction if we wish. Nevertheless, the original agenda stands. Perhaps that is why there is a mandatory forgetting of this knowledge at birth or shortly thereafter: so that we must challenge our free will to make the choices to re-discover our destiny.

Of course, this notion must also go along with a complementary idea that some higher power is providing opportunities (sending messengers and messages) for us to make a choice. We discussed this last week in the Tora-Torah. As an old saying goes, “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

For some people, even the notion that we are alive and conscious as a soul before we are born is hard to take. Their world-view does not allow for anything beyond what their five senses can grasp. But paradigms – world-view models for how we view everything that happens in our lives — do shift. Often we can’t prove what we feel but we somehow suspect it’s true.

Let me share legends of three traditions that speak of these things. In spite of how wide apart their sources, each of these legends has common threads.

Dan Millman, the author of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, tells the following story:

“Soon after her brother was born, little Sachi began to ask her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that like most four-year-olds, she might feel jealous and want to hit or shake him, so they said no. But she showed no signs of jealousy. She treated the baby with kindness and her pleas to be left alone with him became more urgent. They decided to allow it. Elated, she went into the baby’s room and shut the door, but it opened a crack — enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Sachi walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his and say quietly, ‘Baby, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.'”

A second, more detailed view of this issue I encountered in a wonderful book called Of Water and The Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Some, an African Shaman who was kidnapped by Jesuits at an early age and for fifteen years was ‘imprisoned’ in a seminary being trained as a priest. At age 20 he escaped and walked 125 miles back to his village where he had difficulty re-acclimating to the traditions of the tribe. He subsequently underwent a vigorous 40 day initiation rite that he should have had at thirteen. Malidoma holds three masters’ degrees and two doctorates from the Sorbonne and from Brandeis and for three years taught literature at the University of Michigan. (The book tells the whole story.)

One of the practices in the Dagara tribe is that when a women is pregnant, the elders of the tribe take her to the field and put her into a deep trance. At that time they speak to the child within. It seems to be a form of channeling facilitated by the spiritual power of the elders. The child within reveals to the elders its gender, name, and destiny. In fact, the name given is closely tied to their destiny. Malidoma, for example, means “be friends with the stranger/enemy”. After birth the child spends much time with the grandparent, for they are each closer to ‘eternity’ than the parent, because of their ages.

“Before you were born,” says the elder to Malidoma, “your family learned who you were and what your purpose is. You chose to be born within a particular family because that made your purpose here easier to fulfill. While still in your mother’s womb, you told the living certain things to remember. But even if they were to tell you these things, would you remember? Would you trust them enough? You would not, because when we come here and take on human form, we change our opinions like the wind. When you do not know who you are, you follow the knowledge of the wind.”

A third ancient culture that deals with this issue is our own Jewish tradition. According to the Talmud, when a child is in the womb, an angel comes into the womb, lights a candle over the head of the child and teaches it the entire Torah (bible) by heart! According to one variation of the story, the angel also shows the child all of human history from creation all the way to the future messianic time when the world will live together in peace and brotherhood.

Just before birth, the angel asks the child whether s/he would like to make a commitment to doing some job to hasten the arrival of this utopian age. The child thinks about it and then, just before birth, makes a vow of what s/he would like to do in the lifetime ahead: its destiny.

The angel then ‘signs’ the agreement by touching the child on the upper lip (leaving the small indentation that we all have on the upper lip) as a sign that the vow was taken. The catch is that at that moment the child forgets everything s/he has learned! The whole Torah and the vow are all forgotten. The child is born crying not because s/he is in pain but because s/he has just forgotten all the wisdom and the destiny plan that was known.

But … not to worry; The child hasn’t really forgotten anything. The angel has simply placed three veils over the child’s consciousness. These veils are lifted at different initiatory moments during life. For example, the removal of the foreskin at the boy’s Bris (Brit Milah) is the removal of the boy’s physical veil, thereby raising the soul’s material senses back to its spiritual potential. The lifting of the veil of the young lady under the marriage canopy is the removal of veil of the heart for each of the two soul mates. It is the job of the soul, once the veils have been removed, to rediscover its purpose and to fulfill its destiny.

All of these veils are mysteriously encoded in our soul’s name. For example: My Hebrew name at birth, Micha’el Ephraim, can mean: “Who is like Hashem? He who is fruitful and sweetens the world.” My Black Belt name expanded and clarified that mission: Te Tzun Li means that I can preserve reason only through virtue in action; a lesson to understand that the qualities of character with which I teach are as important as the lessons themselves. The name I received when awarded 1st Level Grand Master, Ch’eng Tao, further points me along a path to perfect the ‘way’, to lead towards spiritual unity. Each name came at a time when I had reached a plateau in my life. TaShih, a gifted and inspired genius at choosing names, helped provide me with a further clarification (and not a replacement) of my spiritual agenda in life.

All of these wonderful legends have certain common factors: First, that there is a soul and that it has a certain destiny. Second, that the soul knows before birth of this potential destiny that it may fulfill in the lifetime ahead. This, of course, is based on the growing person’s choice to follow his/her destiny. Third, that some process of forgetting must be undergone to allow for complete exercise of free will. Finally, there is the belief that some higher power will provide the correct scenarios in our lives so we can make the choices to follow and fulfill our destinies.

We should be challenged in three ways by these stories and lessons. One, to explore our own names and look for the lessons encoded within. Secondly, to carefully look back at our lives for events (‘peek’ experiences) which have given us glimpses into our destiny plan. Third, to cultivate a state of mindfulness (using many of the skills we learn in Tora Dojo and other techniques as well) to notice these moments of unveiling in our lives as they happen. They may prove to be reminders of something we once knew.

That, my friends, is what’s in a name.

"Tora-Torah" is a weekly column on Parshat Hashavua with insights into the inner aspects of the Jewish martial arts as founded and taught by Grand Master H. I. Sober in the International Tora Dojo Martial Arts Association. The copyrighted 'Tora tiger' logo is used with permission of Prof. H. I. Sober.
"Tora-Torah" is written or edited by Michael Andron, PhD. Lao Shih, a Seventh Degree Black Belt in the Tora Dojo Association. He has been teaching Grand Master Sober's system for over 30 years.
Note that the Tora Dojo comments are highlighted in a different color. This should help teachers in their sharing Tora-Torah with younger students at their level of comprehension. If any of you would like to contribute some "Torah" from time to time, send your suggestions (keep 'em short and ... in by Sunday, please) to I'll try to keep it simple and with a good Tora Dojo lesson as well.
"Tora-Torah" is published by Kodesh, Inc. Kodesh is a non-profit organization devoted to personal growth, mind-body effectiveness training, spiritual awareness. It offers programs to help the student "alter the state of his/her consciousness" through education, experience and joyful celebration.
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