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One Thought, Many Emotions: Who Are You After Battling the Angel: An Understanding of Parashat Vayishlach

A person’s name is one of the most important elements of an identity. Reb Mimi Feigelson explores identity, the self, consciousness, and the Divine in this week’s Torah portion: Vayishlach. 

I have two questions to pose for you.

Question number one is: When you introduce yourself, how do you introduce yourself? Do you say, for example, my name is Mimi, or I am Mimi?

How do you name yourself: “I am” or “my name is?”

That is question number one.

Question number two is: I want you to ask yourself: How many names do you have? Other than the name on your birth certificate, and the name that you use when you are called up to the Torah, for example.

How many names do you have? Who calls you those names? What is the nature of the relationship that is in someways entangled within those different names?

I’d even hit the pause for a moment to write down all the different names and who are the people.

Some are work, some are endearing, some are family, some are ‘you know when you hear it you are in trouble’.

What are the names and why now do I think that this question is so crucial?

Right now with what is happening in Israel, what is happening in world Jewry and in the world, the question of people and how they are called, what they are called, and how they identify themselves and how we identify ourselves is a core question of how we walk through the world right now, and how we perceive who we are and what it is that we respond to and how do we respond.

So, the question that happens after Jacob struggles all night with the angel and so many commentaries about struggling with the dark sides within ourselves and we all, I think, are having multiple conversations with ourselves simultaneously right now. Who is talking to who when we talk to ourselves and what voice and what name is connected to that voice that is asking and posing questions and thoughts that possibly we could not even imagine and think them or are capable of thinking them.

There is a reason why Adam names the animals. Naming is an element of ownership, of presence, of consciousness.

When Jacob asks for a blessing, what he is receiving is two names. A new name, until that moment he was Jacob. Now he is Jacob/Israel.

Jacob, we know, in the mystical traditions, is a contracted consciousness and Israel is an expanded consciousness. They are motives.

The way we understand ourselves also sometimes our thinking is very limited and very concrete. Sometime we have really an expansive way of thinking and approaching an issue.

Rabbi Levi Yitzhack of Berditchev, the Hassidic master of the 19th century, speaks of people that are someway in dialogue with God all the time. Some people when they are shul or when they are davening (praying) or when they are learning they are in some kind of commune with the divine. And then otherwise when they are in the street or walking around doing their thing.

The bracha of:

.כי הייתה עם אֲנָשִׁים ועִם אֱלֹהִים וַתּוּכָל

is about a consciousness. The angel says you are with God and with people and are able. It is a way of holding God in consciousness, wherever it is that we are.

I want to say that in these times, the conversations that we are having with God, about God, in the presence of or the absence of.

Those are different ways in which we perceive ourselves.  I want to say, maybe possibly, different voices within ourselves have different names.

But, naming is a question of ownership, as well.

I have been telling myself, reminding myself all these weeks that we can think only one thought at any different time. Sometimes, I look at my thought and I have to shift it. But we can feel multiple feelings simultaneously.

Four chambers of our heart. We can think one thought, but we can feel multiple emotions.

Being able to name our emotions will enable us to be with them. I want to say also to be in multiple worlds simultaneously.

Our head only one thought. Our heart multiple emotions.

Name them. Do you feel that? or I am?

Also, a question to answer yourself this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom from Schechter

Reb Mimi serves as the Mashpiah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) of the Rabbinical School, and  teaches Talmud and Hassidic Thought. She will guide and walk with the rabbinical students on their personal-spiritual journeys. She served as the Mashpiah Ruchanit of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles for the last 16 years. Prior to this Reb Mimi was one of the founding administration and faculty members of the “Yakar” Beit Midrash and community.

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