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    Boxing & wrestling – Vayyishlach

    boxingA television station once brought me from Sydney to Melbourne to take part in a program about boxing.

    I told them of course that though there were famous Jewish boxers, the morality of boxing was highly suspect.

    They didn’t ask me about wrestling, but I would have made no distinction between the two types of combat and I could have made a good case against wrestling being a morally acceptable activity.

    Naturally I think of this issue every year when we come to Parashat Vayyishlach and read about Jacob wrestling all night with an unknown assailant.

    If the night’s wrestling was real and literal it is no wonder that Jacob came away with a hip injury. Physical wrestling not only hurts you but is morally questionable.

    On the other hand, if the encounter between Jacob and the assailant was metaphorical one can well understand how a person could spend hours wrestling with what today would be called his demons.

    When the sages say that the assailant was saro shel Esav – the “champion” of Esau – we get the impression of a long struggle between two opposing world-views, the one quiet, studious and spiritual, the other coarse, macho and pagan.

    If it was a metaphorical struggle, how are we to explain Jacob’s injury?

    One approach is to say that if you toss and turn, your body gets contorted and you come away in real pain.

    Another view is that a bitter struggle leaves its mark on your personality and you know you will never be the same again.

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