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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Dancing with an Angel

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

In Parshat VaYishlach, Ya'akov's identity changes as his name is changed from Ya'akov to Yisrael, which means "a struggle with God." In a vivid scene, an angel appears to Ya'akov

and they spend the night wresting. Only toward dawn does Ya'akov triumph over the angel, but not before the angel injures Ya'akov under his thigh which causes him to limp after that fateful evening.

In looking at art depicting the evening, it is easy to see that the moves of wrestling mimic the movements of dancing. This poem imagines the long night being one of dance and not wrestling. Whether dancing or wrestling are the activities of the night, the symbolism is of changing names, changing identities and futures. Both activities engage us physically and exhaust us but the energy is slightly different. Struggle can happen through all movements and let us imagine it now through a dance.

Dancing with an Angel

At midnight I danced with an angel

My heart was filled with fear

I saw him arrive

surrounded by purple darkness

His eyes sparkled as the stars,

Reflecting the light of heaven

I heard the music in my ears

My heartbeat set the rhythm

And the dance began

We circled one other

feet pounding the earth

The echoes electric

Hands pulled upward toward the stars

Fingers reaching, reaching

We mirrored one another

Twin movements of the soul

We twirled and teetered on the edge

Thunder rumbled like drumbeats

The winds danced along with us

The movements electric in the air

We danced the dance of midnight

We danced the dance of change

We danced the dance to free our souls

to break our bonds of the past

We danced with stars watching

And danced toward the future

And when morning's first rays appeared

Our dance came to an end

The angel slowly took his leave

But in my heart the dance remained

Each step I take is an echo of that night

When we danced the dance of midnight

Genesis 32: 25-29 (From Sefaria)

וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר׃ Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.

וַיַּ֗רְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יָכֹל֙ ל֔וֹ וַיִּגַּ֖ע בְּכַף־יְרֵכ֑וֹ וַתֵּ֙קַע֙ כַּף־יֶ֣רֶךְ יַעֲקֹ֔ב בְּהֵֽאָבְק֖וֹ עִמּֽוֹ׃ When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שַׁלְּחֵ֔נִי כִּ֥י עָלָ֖ה הַשָּׁ֑חַר וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֲשַֽׁלֵּחֲךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־בֵּרַכְתָּֽנִי׃ Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו מַה־שְּׁמֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹֽב׃ Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.”

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃ Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”

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