Growing through Adversity

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“Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome”” — Genesis 32:28

Each week in synagogue or at home, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” from Genesis 32:4—36:43.

When I go for my daily walks, I always marvel at the runners that I pass along the way. Sometimes the runners look completely at ease, and I’m amazed that a person can work so hard and make it look so easy. Other times, I pass runners who look like they are really struggling with every step, and I am in awe of their perseverance.

I used to wonder why these runners chose to keep going when they endured so much pain, but then I remembered what my friend, a fitness instructor, once told me. She said that she learned to enjoy the discomfort that comes with working out hard because it means that her body is transforming. What high-performance athletes know is that it is only by struggling that they can achieve their goals. And the same is true spiritually. We grow through adversity.

Struggles Serve a Purpose

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that after fighting against a mysterious man and winning, Jacob was given the name “Israel.” The mystery man revealed Jacob earned this name “…because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

According to the Jewish sages, the man that fought Jacob was an angel of God. His job was to create adversity for Jacob, so that through the struggle, he could transform and advance in his spiritual growth.

Appropriately, the name “Israel” contains the Hebrew word that means “struggle” as well as the word that means “nobility.” This is because Jacob attained nobility by growing through struggles — and so do we. It is through our greatest challenges that we transform into the greatest versions of who we can be.

While none of us would choose a life of constant struggle and adversity, it is important to understand that difficulties serve an important purpose in our lives. They, too, are gifts from God. God’s angels come in many forms. Some come to help us through hard times, and others come to created hardship so that we might learn, grow, and change for the better.

Ultimately, our challenges and hard times all come to an end — but the character we develop and the spiritual growth that we experience last for eternity.

Your turn: Think of a struggle you have endured in the past. How did it help you grow? How might your current challenges change you for the better?

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