|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Zalman Michoel Ben Golda Mirel
-Ariela Golda Bas Amira Tova
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
וַיִּשְׁלַח ● Vayishlach
● Does Yaakov believe he is worthy or unworthy? Who really was the “Man” behind the mask? ●
“Uncovering the Masked Man”
Before the grand reunion and showdown between Yaakov Avinu and his brother Eisav HaRasha, there is a lot of preparation which takes place which culminates into this face-off. The problem is that the Torah’s presentation of these foundational events is inconveniently laden with great obscurity.
That being the case, to tackle every issue in the narrative at once would be a lost cause. With that said, we will break down some of the pressing questions which clouds our simplest understanding of the story and the role of the players therein.
“You Promised You Wouldn’t Forget Me, Right? Right?!”
Firstly, there is a glaring contrast between Yaakov’s mood and feeling of G-dly Presence in his journey away from home in Parshas Vayeitzei and that of his returning home here in Vayishlach. The Torah had recorded that Yaakov confidently “lifted his feet” on his way to Charan1—that he had a spring in his step upon hearing G-d’s assurance to accompany him.2 He felt accompanied by Hashem.
However, now, Yaakov is less giddy. It’s not merely because he’s about to confront his mighty brother who hates him and happens to have four hundred men at his service, though that would cause any of us to experience some anxiety. Apparent from our text is that the G-d Who accompanied Yaakov before, Yaakov is not sure he still has at his side. Thus, Yaakov Davens to Hashem saying, “…Elokei Avi Avraham V’Eilokei Avi Yitzchak Hashem HaOmer Eilai Shuv L’Artzecha U’L’Moladitcha V’Eitivah Imach”-“…G-d of my father Avraham and G-d of my father Yitzchak, Hashem Who said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your birthplace and I will do good with you.’”3
Now, this prayer, at first glance, is quite odd. Does Yaakov think that he has to remind G-d of His own promise? “By the way, G-d, Remember: You promised that You would be there for me. Don’t forget me.” What’s ironic is that Yaakov now has escorting him, an entire family, servants and accumulated wealth—all which he did not have before, not to mention the camp of designated angels4, and yet, some might argue that he feels more alone than ever before. All of a sudden, he has to face Eisav again and he becomes less confident about Hashem’s company. And the question is obvious. Hasn’t Yaakov spoken correctly in his prayer? Hashem promised him good. So, why, then, is Yaakov so uneasy, to the point that he feels like he needs to remind G-d of that which He promised him? If Yaakov has any reason to believe that G-d in fact promised him, then Yaakov’s particular prayer seems superfluous. And, if Yaakov has any reason to believe that the so-called “promise” would not be kept, he has problem with his faith in the word of G-d.
“Taryag Mitzvos Shamarti” or “Shema Yigrom Cheit”?
Now, perhaps an explanation for Yaakov’s newfound lack of confidence can be found in the very next line of his prayer. Yes, he mentions that G-d made a promise. But, then, he continues, “Katonti MiKol HaChassadim U’MiKol HaEmes Asher Asisa Es Avdecha”-“I have become small [diminished] from all of the acts of kindness and all of the truth (to Your word) that You have performed for Your servant…”5
In other words, Rashi explains that Yaakov is afraid that his merits diminished since the time Hashem initially promised him good, for perhaps he has sinned somehow.6 And as a result, maybe he will be delivered into Eisav’s hand. In short, Chazal put it, “Shema Yigrom Cheit” (lit., “Maybe, sin will cause…”).
If the above is true, it solves our initial problem. However, it leads us right into another problem…
When Yaakov sends messengers, to deliver the following message to Eisav: “…Im Lavan Garti Va’Eichar Ad Atoh”-“…With Lavan I sojourned and I delayed until now.”7 Now, on its own, there is nothing strange about this verse. However, Rashi famously cites the Midrash suggesting that as the word “Garti”-“I have sojourned,” [גרתי] shares the exact letters and numberical value of “Taryag” [תרי״ג], 613, referring to the six hundred thirteen commandments of the Torah, Yaakov intends to convey that despite his stay with Lavan Yaakov “kept the commandments” and did not learn from Lavan’s evil ways.8 On the contrary, Yaakov remained a sojourner as opposed to a resident in his home.9
Now, why would he convey this piece of information? Perhaps because he wants to warn Eisav not to trifle with him because whatever Eisav is planning will prove futile because his righteousness is still intact. The question is, if this is so, what did Yaakov mean later when he acknowledges to Hashem, “Katonti Mi’Kol HaChassadim U’Mi’Kol HaEmes…”? If he is truly confident enough to declare “Taryag Mitzvos Shamarti,” it seems inconsistent that he is simultaneously worried about expressed fear of “Shema Yigrom Cheit.”
The question is: Which one is it? Is Yaakov worthy or unworthy? Was Yaakov merely bluffing to scare Eisav? Perhaps it is possible, but considering Eisav’s own personal attitude towards spiritual worth, it would seem like an awkward thing to bluff about. But if it’s the case that Yaakov was not deliberately lying in his message to Eisav, then was he just being modest when speaking to Hashem? That is hard to believe too, because it just seems like a fake presentation before G-d, which is helpful to no one. Even if the modesty wasn’t completely fake, if one doesn’t truly mean it with his full heart, is it not worthless?
So, is it possible that both of Yaakov’s statements are true, or are coming from a place of honesty? How are we to understand Yaakov’s words?
Yaakov vs. ???
Probably the most interesting point of the Sidrah, perhaps of Yaakov’s life, is the famous scene of his wrestling with the mysterious man.
Now, the basic question here is why the story of Yaakov’s apparent wrestling match is presented so ambiguously. So many key details are seemingly left out and the Torah seems to give no prior background to enable our understanding of the story. These questions are hardly about nitpicking and splitting hairs in attempt to explain some fancy phraseology and language in the text. These issues completely cloud our understanding of even Pashut P’shat of the story. Without further ado, let’s discuss them.
The Pasuk tells us, “Vayivaseir Yaakov Levado Vayei’aveik Ish Imo Ad Alos HaShachar”-“And Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.”10
So, first of all, who is this “man” and where did he come from? The Torah doesn’t say. What was the nature of the fight? Was this “man” waiting for him? Did he pop out of nowhere and ambush Yaakov? Did Yaakov see him coming? We’re given no identity of the attacker and no introduction or description of his entrance. All we know is that he’s wrestling Yaakov. Why? Why now? What is his motivation? What does he want? What is the nature of this wrestling match? We’re simply not told
If Chazal didn’t already do so, we would have to attempt some kind deeper reading into this account, because a simple reading of it just does not exist. There is too much ambiguity. The plainest read one can make out of this story already lends itself to either a metaphoric or metaphysical sort of interpretation, perhaps a combination of the two. To quote a line frequently used by Rashi, “Ein HaMikra HaZeh Omer Ela Darsheini”-“This verse says nothing but: Expound on me”11 as this account was was clearly written intentionally in code. Someone has to decode it.
Enter Chazal. Although the Torah calls this mystery fighter an “Ish,” literally, a “man,” Chazal identify him as the Sar Shel Eisav, or the guardian angel of Eisav.12 Now, in terms of how Chazal knew that this mystery man was actually an angel, there are explicit verses in Hoshei’a which reference our story referring to Yaakov’s contention with a Malach, an angel.13 The fact that Yaakov asks for his name after the fight and the character provides no answer14, plus the fact that Yaakov cares to receive a blessing from him14, seem to indicate that this character was something extraterrestrial. But, how exactly do Chazal know that he was specifically a guardian angel of Eisav?
Is Yaakov As Confused As We Are?
Besides for the fact that we can hardly tell what’s happening here, what’s even harder to tell is if Yaakov, our hero, even knows what’s transpiring. Meaning, yes, it is unclear to us who the “masked man” is, but does Yaakov know who this guy is?
We know that Yaakov does ask for his name at the break of dawn, but why doesn’t Yaakov show any sign of curiosity as the match ensued? Why does Yaakov save the most obvious question for the end of the fight? They were together the entire night, but perhaps they were too busy. But, how could Yaakov keep going for an entire night before he himself finally begins to understand the situation? Could anyone be in a fight with total stranger all night long without even knowing who or what this creature is and why he’s struggling with him?
But, what if Yaakov is actually quite aware of his situation? Correct, Yaakov does not know the “name” of the “masked man,” but again, he would have to be pretty “aware” of his situation to carry on the way he does. If that’s the case, we have to understand the one detail Yaakov was apparently not sure about, namely, the exact identity of the “masked man.”
Why Was Yaakov Alone? …No, Really.
The best apparent introduction we get to this cryptic battle is that we’re told that Yaakov was left alone. So, if that’s what started it all, we have to ask: Why was Yaakov left alone?
Rashi suggests a simple answer that will hopefully explain everything. Yaakov was alone because he was returning for “Pachim K’tanim,” small jugs which he apparently left behind.15
Indeed, it does not seem as though Rashi has made anything easier. Hence, our next question: Why was Yaakov turning back for small pitchers? Was it just a coincidence that Yaakov left a couple of things? Moreover, how does such a minute and seemingly random detail of the story turn into this climactic fight? It’s just kitchenware!
Why an “Ish”?
Also, as was mentioned, Chazal reveal that Yaakov’s opponent is none other than the guardian angel of Eisav. How we know, exactly, has yet to be answered. But, what we are certain about was that the “masked man” was most certainly an angel. The question then, is why this angel was called an “Ish”-“man” and not a “Malach”-“angel” as he was in the Navi? Indeed, there are other occurrences where the Chazal assume that an “Ish” in the Torah is actually an angel—it is anacceptable word to use at times; however, in this Sidrah, at least, the Torah earlier had no issue utilizing the simple title for angel, “Malach.” Indeed, the Sidrah opens up with, “Vayishlach Yaakov Malachim Lifanav…”-“And Yaakov sent angels ahead of him…”16 So, why is this angel, all of a sudden, referred to as an “Ish”?
Just Answer the Question!
And finally, there’s a difficulty in the end of this episode as well. As was mentioned earlier, at the very end of fight after getting a blessing from the angel, it finally dawns on Yaakov (no pun intended) that he should ask this guy for his name and identify this “masked” fighter once and for all. However, after everything, the angel doesn’t reveal that information. “…Lamah Zeh Tishal Lishmi?…”-“…Why then do you ask for my name?…”14
Now, if Chazal recognize this guy as being the guardian angel of Eisav, why, at this point, does that have to remain such a secret? Why doesn’t the angel just give Yaakov the straightforward answer that Rashi does when he asks him his name? Just say, “I’m the Sar Eisav. Nice match,” and call it a day. Why can’t he just answer the question? Is he trying to be cool and maintain the mysterious effect of the story?—Because, it’s not cool. It’s actually kind of annoying. Just answer the question!
Back to Yaakov’s Internal Contradictions
Returning to our original questions, we were wondering about Yaakov’s shift in moods and the seemingly contradictory statements. It is odd that Yaakov seems less than confident about Hashem accompanying him when Hashem indeed promised to be with him. Did Hashem leave him? On the contrary, Hashem specifically informed him at Beis Eil that he would guide him.17 Moreover, Hashem just recently appeared to him commanding him to leave the house of Lavan and return home.18
Presumably, Hashem was always “there” as He said He’d be. But, you know what? If one looks at the beginning of our Sidrah, although Yaakov does speak to G-d, in fact, Yaakov does not receive any communication back from Hashem. Apparently then, on some level, Yaakov is alone. The question is why? Why can’t Yaakov seem to find Him now? Perhaps, we could suggest that it is more difficult for one to feel Hashem’s Presence when one’s mind is overly preoccupied, preventing him from being at ease. So, why wasn’t Yaakov at ease?
Well, perhaps the second question we posed might address that. Yaakov apparently sends word to Eisav: “Taryag Mitzvos Shamarti”—that he’s still righteous and spiritually intact. You might say that is on G-d’s good side. And yet, in the next breath, Yaakov seems to confess to G-d that he might be out of merit because he may have sinned, “Shema Yigrom Cheit.” Which one is true?
Well, perhaps Yaakov thought, or hoped, that he was on the right track, but when Yaakov’s messengers reported that Eisav’s approaching, armed with four hundred men19, Yaakov began to second guess himself. Perhaps that’s why he was having trouble sensing G-d at his side. He could hardly even find himself. He felt accompanied by Hashem when he felt he could bear Hashem’s mission in the outside world, but as he begins to return home, he wonders how he fared when he was gone. Did he serve Hashem properly in the new zone or not? As we’ve discussed in earlier, Yaakov was chosen to inherit the legacy of his father and grandfather, taking on both his role and Eisav’s. Is he doing it right? When Yaakov’s able to say that he succeeded in both worlds—in the tents, and in the field where Eisav failed, then, he could feel Hashem’s Presence as he did in Beis Eil. But perhaps, since he is unsure, despite all he has going for him, he feels alone. On the one hand, he is pretty sure that “Taryag Mitzvos Shamarti.” Yet, on the other hand, “Shema Yigrom Cheit.” If one thing is certain, Yaakov is feeling conflicted.
Decoding the Story
Perhaps, Yaakov’s apparent conflict is the formula for decoding the rest of the story.
As was mentioned, the key difficulty that was posed on this entire narrative in the Torah is about the general ambiguity throughout. We suggested that the narrative was intentionally written in code. However, being that Hashem authored the Torah and had a certain agenda, seeking to get a particular message across, the assumption is that whatever Hashem has left us with is all the background we actually need. The text and its ambiguity apparently speak for itself. Every seeming omission should be seen as a clue.
If we accept that Yaakov’s internal struggle sets the stage for this obscure fight with the angel, maybe we should keep that in mind as we approach our other questions.
With that said, let’s break down the story. We know that this guy is an angel. Fine. But, what else could we figure about this angel?
As was mentioned, the account apparently begins, “Vayivaseir Yaakov Levado…”-“And Yaakov was left alone…” Indeed, this sounds a lot like the conflicted Yaakov we’ve been describing.
So, what’s happening in this scene? Who is this guy? Why does he receive no formal introduction? Why isn’t the Torah providing this information?
With continued faith that the Torah has said everything it needed to say in this coded story, we shall just proceed with the given information.
As was mentioned, the fight begins with Yaakov being alone. There is no introduction beyond that. The Torah doesn’t even tell us that Yaakov went back. So, the fact that there’s no evident background to this event seems to indicate that it was somewhat automatic. The fight is not really given an introduction, perhaps because it did not have an apparent beginning. It had been ensuing perpetually for some time, or at least, it was stirring up, perhaps inside Yaakov, until now. When the precise moment came, when Yaakov was apparently feeling most alone, the battle “detonated” like a time bomb without warning.
Yaakov doesn’t initially pose any questions. We suggested that perhaps, in a sense, Yaakov really did see all of this coming. The struggle was already looming, and when Yaakov was “alone,” he was already tied up with this angel, or this “man.”
“Ish Imo”-“Man With Him”
We asked why the Torah referred to this angel as an “Ish.” Are there any hints that can help us recognize who this angel/man is, where he came from, and why?
Firstly, regarding the fact that the Torah used the word “Ish” instead of “Malach,” one thing to understand is that the word “Ish,” as opposed to the word “Adam” (which also plainly means “man”), denotes more than just “man,” but a established personality.20 Accordingly, Yaakov is battling some personality. But what is the nature of this “personality”?
Well, maybe if we focused on another word in the Pasuk, we’d find some hint. “…Vayei’aveik Ish Imo…”-“…and a man wrestled with him…”
Maybe, the same verse can be read, “…and a man with him wrestled…”—in other words, there was this “man” or “personality” hovering around Yaakov, so that when Yaakov was alone, this man who was perpetually “with him” began to tie up with him in this wrestling match. The nature of this man’s personality, so to speak, is that he is “being with” Yaakov.
Now, this suggestion that there was this “man” lingering with Yaakov, an “Ish Imo” sounds like a “fancy,” convoluted, and unsubstantiated Drash. Why would we suggest such a read into our verse? How would such a read even help us understand the story better? What does it even mean that there was this “man with” Yaakov? Who or what is the nature of this “man”?
Well, although one may not be aware of it, this peculiar phrase in our verse, “Ish Imo,” is not the first of its kind. In fact, it only appears one other time in the entire Torah! And it appears in a verse not too far away from ours. And perhaps this other verse can shed some light on ours. Where is this verse?
We will hopefully get back to that soon, but in the meantime, let’s try to understand exactly what it might mean that there was a wrestling bout between Yaakov and the “man” who was “with him.” Moreover, let’s try to truly investigate who exactly the “man with him” could possibly be.
Who is the “Ish Imo”?
Who can it be? As promised, we will return to the mysterious verse which we have hinted to earlier, but maybe there are enough clues without it.
While we’re investigating, is the Biblical term “Ish” by itself used prominently in immediate connection with Yaakov elsewhere?
Well, we know that Yaakov himsel was known as the “Ish Tam”-“simple man.”21 Yes, that was Yaakov himself. But, then, who would be the “man with him”? If Yaakov himself is the “Ish Tam,” that means that there can only be one alternative personality who can be identified as this external “Ish Imo.” It has to be another “Ish” that rivals the “Ish Tam” personality. It has to be the “…Ish Yodei’a Tzayid Ish Sadeh”-“…man of skilled trapping, the man of the field,”21 the Torah’s description of the Eisav-personality!
And if we think about it, the Eisav-personality has always been with him—grappling with Yaakov, not just on the surface in the form of a sibling rivalry, but with Yaakov’s essence always. Indeed, from the time Yaakov held onto Eisav’s heel at birth22, and possibly even earlier, Yaakov and Eisav have been in tying up with one another. But, beyond that, the Eisav-personality actually infiltrated Yaakov’s essence, in almost becoming part of him, being “with him”—accompanying him everywhere. What do I mean?
Consider the time Yaakov wore the goatskin to impersonate Eisav and win the blessings from their father.23 Albeit in accordance with mother’s instructions, an attempt to misrepresent oneself and not only cunningly win the “blessings” of approval of his father was a page out of Eisav’s book! From then and onward, Yaakov would perhaps have that cloud hovering over him. This cloud would remain with him in the house of Lavan as well where he would have to utilize the gray, Eisav-like craft of cunning to counteract the schemes of his uncle. Ever since leaving his comfort zone—from wholesomely learning in the tents into the outside world to succeed in his brother’s stead, Yaakov would have to struggle with a “dual identity” which included some form of adaptation of the Eisav-personality. This reality was reasonably troubling to Yaakov, the “Ish Tam,” whose single goal was to serve Hashem and fellowman with complete purity of heart.
With this in mind, we can better appreciate the magic words, “Ish Imo”-“man with him.” Indeed, the only other occurrence of these words in the entire Chumash appears earlier in our very own Sidrah. Yaakov’s messengers report back to him informing him that Eisav was advancing toward him, “V’Arba Mei’os Ish Imo”-“and [there are] four hundred men with him.”24 Four hundred personalities and representatives of Eisav are on their way. It is Eisav’s army! The spiritual chief or Sar of that army is the “man” in our verse, the “Ish Imo,” perhaps a one-man army that Yaakov feared the most. The “Ish Imo” is the Eisav-personality.25
Perhaps, some, much or all of the above may be part of what led Chazal to the conclusion that this “man” and adversary was, indeed, the Sar Eisav.26 With that information confirmed, we can better understand the exact nature of Yaakov’s battle with the Sar. It’s not merely a physical battle, but a battle of the mind and soul. It is about the internal war between Yaakov and the Eisav-personality.
Our Other Questions
Now, that we have a better understanding of Yaakov’s conflicts and how they are demonstrated both in Yaakov’s words and his battle with the “Ish,” perhaps we can answer our other questions.
The Pachim Ketanim – Acquired Through Honesty
We can understand the nature of the battle, but why here and now? The Torah simply says that Yaakov was alone. Rashi mentioned something about Yaakov going back for some vessels, which didn’t seem to make matters easier to understand. Would the whole fight have been avoided if not for those pesky little jars? Perhaps, one might suggest a simple explanation of the Pachim Ketanim is that sinceYaakov, at that moment, was conveniently by himself—for whatever reason, he was left in a perfect position to be pulled into a one-on-one fight. In that case, the jugs themselves were insignificant.
Maybe, but perhaps, one can suggest a more fundamental explanation for the “Pachim Ketanim” approach based on the entirety of the Gemara in Chullin which originally mentioned these jugs. The Gemara there says that they mattered to Yaakov as the possessions of Tzaddikim are dear to them, for they obtain every bit of their possessions diligently, honestly and certainly without the slightest trace of thievery. The assumption is that Yaakov obtained these pitchers, as he would any of his possessions, by simply working hard and not by being deceitful.
Considering Yaakov’s battle with the Eisav-personality though, perhaps this very concern is what left Yaakov truly conflicted. He was most certainly not a crook by any means. He violated no rules to obtain his wealth; however, in dealing with the tricky swindler Lavan, Yaakov had to incorporate that craft of cunning into his business dealings, for example, as he devised some sort of spiritual-scientifc method to manipulate the reproduction of the flocks, using rods to make the flocks of sheep bear the spotted and colored ones which Lavan declared would be his wage.27, 28 Mind you, it was an angel of G-d that instructed Yaakov to utilize this new business tactic29, but perhaps that still was something that Yaakov might have felt uncomfortable doing.
And, maybe this discomfort with even the “dirt” of dishonest can explain why the Eisav-personality wrestles with Yaakov then and there as he was going back for even a couple of simple jugs. Moreover, it can explain why, although Yaakov is able to confirm that “Taryag Mitzvos Shamarti,” he was yet worried that, “Shema Yigrom Cheit.”
Now, before confronting Eisav once again, Yaakov needs to know that he completely obtained his possessions honorably, however the Sar Eisav wants to grapple around with this claim because of his “gray” tactics, perhaps not only with Lavan, but with Eisav regarding the birthright and the blessings, that maybe, Yaakov was becoming the Eisav-personality, the monster himself.
Yaakov is an undoubted Tzaddik, however there’s a Sar Eisav following him everywhere. The question is: Is Yaakov’s essence going to be modified by the Eisav-personality? Is Eisav’s interpretation of Yaakov’s name as referring to crookedness and underhanded manipulations30 going to cleave to and ultimately define Yaakov’s being? Answering this question is the evident battle that Yaakov would have to fight here.
A New Title – Undisputed Champion
When asked for his name, Yaakov looked at the Sar Eisav in the eye and delivers a direct answer.31 The Sar Eisav then informed him of his eventual name change, that he shall be called “Yisrael,” one who contends with and overcomes both Divine and human forces, whether referring to the fight with the angel and the “battles” with Eisav and Lavan or with any other forces in his life.32 The point is that the name Yisrael, admits the Sar Eisav, signifies that Yaakov has fought these battles and has proven able—able to confront these challenges face-to-face, “Panim El Panim”33 and uphold his spiritual posture. This new title confirms it. Yaakov’s chosenness would no longer be disputed.
“Why Did Yaakov Ask for His Name?”
However, interestingly, when Yaakov turns the tables and questions the angel, asking him for his name, as was mentioned, Yaakov doesn’t receive a direct answer. The “man” does not verbally reveal that he is an angel, the Sar Eisav.
Now, although this question bothered us, a question we have no considered is: What exactly was Yaakov looking for?
If he was aware of that this battle was with the Eisav-personality, which presumably he was, and the “man” confirmed that he is blessed for his success, what more does he still want to know from this angel? As the angel put it, why did Yaakov ask for his name?
But, perhaps, in light of everything we suggested, Yaakov wanted to see the Sar Eisav admit that he in fact was the Eisav-personality, an external personality to that of Yaakov. He wanted to “man” to admit that it is Eisav who is fundamentally comprised of the clever, sly behavior to navigate through life, wherever it conveniences him. Maybe, Yaakov wants to be free of this dark cloud, the “Ish Imo”—the Eisav-personality. Hence, he does not simply ask for the man’s name, but he says, “…Hagidah Na Shimecha…”-“…Declare now [please], your name…”14
The “man,” however, sidesteps the request as only an Eisav-personality would—unable to confess this truth. Perhaps he was confirming Yaakov’s hopes. But, maybe the real truth is that there is no stagnant reality that can be confirmed here. One can’t shake himself free from the demons that attempt to infiltrate his essence. It’s a growing battle. Yaakov won this battle, but he would have to continue to defend his title and wrestle with the Eisav-personality moving forward.
The Battle Continues
Was Yaakov still worthy or not? That was Yaakov’s doubt. But after Yaakov realized that it’s a constant battle, perhaps, that was all of the clarity he needed. After finding himself and facing Eisav again—his biological brother and the “personality,” Yaakov can be at ease and eventually feel the comfort of Hashem’s Presence. Indeed, soon after meeting Eisav again, Hashem would speak up to Yaakov once again.34
This epic battle appears to be the climax of Yaakov’s life, yet it’s not followed exactly by any falling action. On the contrary, there’s more to come, and some might say that the action is only picking up. The idea is that the struggle with the “Divine and men,” the internal and external forces in life, does not end in this lifetime. These battles continue perpetually. We’re assured, however, that for Yisrael, these battles can be won.
May we all be Zocheh to successfully confront and overcome all of the challenges in life and not only prove able, but be victorious in the constant battle to live lives of Avodas Hashem and fulfilling Hashem’s Torah, feeling Hashem’s Presence with us once again with the coming of the Geulah in the times of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 29:1
- Rashi there citing Bereishis Rabbah 70:8
- Bereishis 32:10
- Citing Tanchuma, Beshalach 28, Brachos 4A, and Bamidbar Rabbah 19:32
- Bereishis 32:5
- Citing Bereishis Rabbasi, the treatise of R’ Moshe HaDarshan
- Emes L’Yaakov
- Bereishis 32:25
- e.g. Rashi to Bereishis 1:1
- Rashi citing Bereishis Rabbah 77:3 and Tanchuma 8
- Hoshei’a 12:4-5; the Navi specifically writes of Yaakov Avinu, “Sarah Es Elokim…Vayasar El HaMalach Vayuchal”-“He contended with G-d…and he contended with the angel and proved able,” which directly parallels the phraseology in our scene of Bereishis 32:25-31, particularly the line, “Ki Sarisa…VaTuchal”-“For you have contended…and you have proven able.”
- Bereishis 32:30
- Rashi to 32:35 citing Chullin 91A
- Bereishis 32:4 with Rashi citing Bereishis Rabbah 75:4
- Bereishis 28:13-15
- e.g. “Ish Tzaddik”-“righteous man,” Bereishis 6:9; For more examples and evidence of this understanding of the word “Ish,” see what I wrote earlier, “Conversation of the Servant,” Parshas Chayei Sarah.
- Bereishis 25:27
- Perhaps it is with that the Ba’al HaTurim comments on our verse that the words “Ish Imo” share the same exact numerical value as the words “Eisav Edom.”
- See also Rashi to 33:10 citing Bereishis Rabbah 77:3. There, he reads Yaakov’s words to Eisav at their later encounter as a hint to the fact that Yaakov confronted some metaphysical semblance of Eisav. “…Ki Al Kein Ra’isi Fanecha Kir’os P’nei Elohim Vatirtzeini”-“…for it is so that I have seen your face [but] like the face of a Divine being, and you have received me favorably,” can possibly be understood in other words as, “I saw an angelic version of your countenance…”
- Bereishis 30:37-43
- In the end of that passage [30:43], if it helps our argument, the Torah interestingly refers to Yaakov as “HaIsh”-“the man”; “Vayifrotz HaIsh Me’od Me’od…”-“And the man became most exceedingly prosperous…” You can take that or leave it.
- Bereishis 31:10-13
- 32:29 with Rashi citing Pesikta Zutresa, Bereishis Rabbah 78:3 and 68:1-3