"And Yakov was alone and a man
wrestled (vayai'avaik) with him until the break of day. And he saw that he could not
prevail over him so he touched Yakov's thigh and put it out of joint, in his wrestling
with him. And he said, 'Free me for the day is breaking.' And he replied, 'I will not let
you go unless you bless me.' And he said, 'What is your name?' And he replied, 'Yakov.'
And he said, 'Your name will no longer be called "Yakov" but "Israel"
for [it means that] you have contended with G-d and with humans and prevailed.' And Yakov
said, 'Tell me your name' and he said, 'Why do you ask my name?' and he blessed him there.
And Yakov called the name of the place 'Paniel' for [it means] 'I have seen G-d face to
face' and my life is saved. And the sun shone for him (Genesis 32:25-32)."
Many parts of the above passage from the
Torah are very, very strange and have glaring, protruding questions. This happens to be a
superb example of how the "oral Torah (Talmud, midrashim, kabala, etc.)"
complements the "written Torah (TaNaCH - Bible)." Without the oral Torah, the
written Torah is a closed or a coded book that defies accurate comprehension. With the
oral Torah, we will see how everything makes profound sense AND gets us "off and
running" in dealing with the "relationship dilemma" that is wreaking
tragedy in our generation. Herein are the basis for understanding the problem AND for
addressing the solution.
Let's start exploring this passage by
reviewing the context.
Yakov bought the birthright from his
brother Esav to inherit his father's legacy. Esav later regretted the sale and threatened
to kill Yakov. Their mother, Rivka, told Yakov to flee from their home in Eretz Yisroel to
her brother Lavan in Padan Aram (present day Iraq). While there, Yakov worked, built a
family and, after many years, became wealthy. For all the many years that Yakov lived with
Lavan, Yakov steadfastly observed G-d's commandments (Rashi to Genesis 32:5), and he
raised his family to know, to serve, and to be loyal to, G-d and Torah. G-d came to Yakov
and told him to return home and that G-d would protect Yakov. He took his family, servants
and possession and, dutifully, returned.
Being very humble, Yakov feared that he may
have sinned and lost the merit with which he deserved Heaven's protection. In recording
this, the Torah is teaching us that one may lose his status of "righteous." Even
if G-d promises protection, He may remove one's entitlement to Heaven's help or protection
unless the person's behavior remains blameless [Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch].
Yakov prayed to G-d, "Save me from my
brother, from Esav." He sent emissaries ahead to determine if Esav was still a
threat. Esav had a history of being a murderer, idolater, adulterer and an unprincipled
mercenary soldier. He was one to watch out for. His threat to kill Yakov had to be taken
The messengers came back saying that Esav
had heard that Yakov was returning and was coming to meet Yakov with 400 soldiers. Yakov
was, understandably, frightened. So he split his family and the rest of his caravan into
two camps and separated them with a good distance, so that if one were attacked, the other
half of his entourage would be safe. At one point on the journey back, Yakov forgot some
property and went back for it. It is at this point that he is left alone, in the middle of
the night, and the above passage occurs.
Question 1 that occurs to me probably
arises out of being a New Yorker. If a mugger comes upon a victim and demands money, he
pulls a knife or a club. He might maim or kill, but since when does he wrestle? Even in
the ancient Middle East, would a highway robber just come upon a wayfarer at midnight and
just start wrestling? And, of all kinds of attacks, he mugs him not for money, not to kill
him; but he mugs him for the purpose of keeping Yakov busy for the night, and he ends up
dislocating Yakov's thigh and giving Yakov a blessing. Not a very professional mugging!
Who is this character who jumps Yakov in the middle of the night to wrestle till dawn?
With all this, let's say it winds up being plausible. Even so, how does a wrestling
episode merit to be part of G-d's eternal Torah? How does it all fit?
But remember that this is Yakov. Forefather
of the Jewish people. Prototype of the Jew. Tzadik (saintly, pious, G-d fearing person who
obeys the entire Torah). Prophet. Torah scholar. Family man.
And that's the point.
This was not a physical wrestling match. IT
WAS A STRUGGLE OF VALUES, IDEOLOGIES AND LIFESTYLES. It was spiritual wrestling.
Everything about it, every component of it, corresponded to a Torah principle in contrast
with and in conflict with a secular principle.
Yakov was alone. The midrash [Beraishis
Raba] says that this "alone" means that he was of a unique spiritual quality
that no one in history matched. He was forefather of the Jewish people par excellence.
Avraham and Yitzchok had children who would break away [Avraham had Yishmael and Yitzchok
had Esav], while all of Yakov's children, the "twelve tribes," went in the
"way of G-d." Tzadik - pious, righteous. Prophet - with whom G-d communicated.
Torah scholar who the Torah itself calls, the "Perfect man who dwells in the tents
[of Torah, i.e. yeshiva; Genesis 25:27]." Family man. Remember that, at this time,
Yakov had eleven sons (Binyomin had not yet been born); servants; droves of goats, sheep,
camels, cattle, donkeys. His "portfolio" was enormous. He had been successful in
materialism and spirituality, in every aspect of life.
When the Torah tells us that he divided his
camp into two, separating them a good distance from each other, Yakov said that if one of
the two camps be killed, the one camp will remain.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in his
brilliant commentary on the Torah, points out something awesome. The Torah records Yakov
as saying that "machaneh ho'achas (the one camp) will be killed...".
Grammatically there is a problem. We know that G-d knows Hebrew grammar perfectly - Hebrew
is His language. Besides grammar, He knows everything! Whenever the Torah makes a
"grammar mistake" it is for the purpose of "building in" a concisely
structured and meaningful additional lesson, never actually calling G-d's grammar into
"Machaneh (camp)" is a masculine
noun. The adjective "Ho'achas" (the one) is the feminine version of "the
one." The masculine adjective that should go with it should be "ho'echad"
("the one" - in masculine form). By using the feminine gender term (ho'achas),
G-d's Torah is telling us what a sensitive man Yakov is. He is a family man, first and
foremost. Family is the highest value and priority. The Jewish family is to be based upon
the emotional traits associated with - but not to be restricted to - the female. He is a
compassionate husband and father. He is the provider who cares for and who nurtures. He
promotes Torah teaching, observance and atmosphere in his home. He is the prototype of the
Jewish family value system.
Yakov is an original. A paragon. Unique in
all of history. He is alone.
The attack was an attack of values,
spiritual vs. worldly values. The attack against Yakov was directed at his attributes as
an embodiment of Torah and kindness and mercy; as father, husband and family man. These
very qualities in which he was a "specialist" were attacked because his
descendants would be attacked the same way in time to come, and we would need to know
where to look to know how to contend with this struggle of life systems when this battle
would come into our lives. Yakov was teaching US, TODAY, how to deal with the battle.
"And a man wrestled (vayai'avaik) with
him until the break of day" [verse 25].
Questions two and three. Who is this
strange attacker? And why was the fight at night?
The Talmudic rabbis tell us that the
"man" was no standard human being. He was the archangel of Esav, the guardian
and the representative of Esav and his values [Beraishis Raba]. Consider, before going any
further, that the Torah is recording a story of Esav's guardian angel entering into a
wrestling episode with Yakov. The fact that Esav had a guardian angel which engaged Yakov
- and that G-d saw fit to include this in the Torah - tells us that Esav is a powerful
force, and all that he stands for is "serious business."
The Zohar teaches that
"vayai'avaik" is from the root word, "avak," which means
"dust." Some people know that one relatively simple implication of this (brought
by Rashi) is that wrestling kicks up dust. But, it goes much deeper than that.
Avak is a kind of dirt that is barren,
fruitless, lifeless. From it can come no vegetation, as contrasted with "Ofor
(earth)," from which life can grow.
Rabbi Hirsch points out here that the
wrestling episode, therefore, was specifically the battle between Esav's values and
Yakov's values. Yakov represents the compassionate and caring husband and father, student
and teacher of Torah, advocate of mitzvos and ongoing spiritual growth, dedicated and
sensitive nurturer and provider. To him, work and politics are tools for human endeavors,
organizations are for humane and spiritual goals.
Esav represents power, militarism,
materialism, politics, achievements in the world outside of the home, conquest, and the
absence of moral absolutes. One can do whatever one wants. And Esav did it all by the time
he was fifteen. I know neighborhoods in New York today about whose residents you can say
the same thing. To Esav, family is in the background, subordinate to livelihood, outside
worldly organizations or entities, and material goals.
To Yakov, home life and family are in the
center, the priority among values in life, the purpose of an honest and clean and
self-sufficient livelihood. Material and worldly goals are subordinate, at the service of
the spiritual priorities.
Night represents exile, when the Jews are
without the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and without a unified Torah-based Jewish
commonwealth in the Land of Israel. We are spread around the world and vulnerable to
hosting nations and cultures.
Esav was born with red hair and complexion.
Because his parents feared that his very red color meant that his health was in danger,
they never gave him circumcision, which is the identifying hallmark of a Jew. When he
reached bar mitzva (and became responsible to circumcise himself as soon as his health
would have permitted), he refused and said he had no interest in bothering with
circumcision, separating himself permanently from Jewish heritage (Das Zekainim to Genesis
25:25). One of my Torah teachers, Rabbi Avrohom Asher Zimmerman said that as soon as he
could, Esav fled the spiritual life. Esav was "on track" for this since he was
eight days old. He grew up healthy enough to have had a bris - he just looked unhealthy.
However, that was all the excuse he needed. He used that excuse as soon as he reached bar
mitzva, which enabled him to choose on his own to rebel against the Torah heritage and
become an evil, godless criminal.
Esav had a bloodthirsty nature and became a
murderer (Me'Am Loez) on his bar mitzva day. Instead of having his bris, committing
himself to Torah and mitzvos, entering the G-dly covenant of his grandfather Avraham, he
used his bar miztva day to enter the fold of murderers.
In adulthood, Esav called himself a second
name, "Edom," which in Hebrew means "red." Red means that he, his
followers and his descendants would typify war, murder and blood-thirstiness [Beraishis
Raba]. Rabbi Hirsch (commenting on Genesis 25:30) demonstrates that the reason that Esav
took on the name "Edom" was because he was delighted by the sight of blood that
was coming out of a dying victim. By his bar mitzva, when the first-born son of Yitzchok
should have wholeheartedly taken on Jewish tradition as a Jewish adult, he repudiated and
severed his linkage to everything that Judaism and Torah stand for, by adopting everything
that is Judaism's antithesis. Esav is progenitor of the Biblical nation Edom. And Edom is
the progenitor of the nation Rome. Therefore, Esav is the progenitor of Rome, its nature
and all that it stands for. The Talmud (Pesachim 54b) refers to Rome as a nation and
culture as guilty, evil.
There are to be a total of four exiles in
history. We are now in the fourth, which is the exile of Rome. Rome destroyed the Holy
Temple, the traditional center of Jewish life; murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews; and
scattered the surviving Jewish people around the world.
Through the symbolism of this attacker
wrestling with Yakov at night, the Torah is prophesying that there will be an exile in
which the Jews, the descendants of Yakov, will be attacked by, and in the environment of,
the descendants of Esav. The values of Esav will surround, tempt, threaten, engage and
attack the descendants of Yakov - jeopardizing the Jews spiritually and materially. This
will be a ferocious and unrelenting test. Like dust, the society and values of the exile
of Rome will have no intrinsic life or worth. It will be a battle of ideologies, values
and life systems. It will be a fight in emptiness, coldness and darkness, against an
opponent with no true value or merit. When the daybreak comes, the dominion of the forces
and values of Esav will be recognized as clearly as a sun-sized light is recognized in the
darkness. Everything that Esav stands for will pass away and vanish. Everyone will
recognize and admit the inescapable truth. The culture, values and legacy of Esav are
dust...lifeless, meaningless, worthless and empty. Those of the Torah are life itself.
This is seen by Yakov, the "perfect man who dwells in the tents," when he stays
in his home and has the light of Torah.
The Torah, discusses which species of
animals are kosher and which species of animals are non-kosher. Of the land animals,
species are kosher if they 1. chew the cud AND 2. have split hooves. To be kosher, a
species must specifically have BOTH signs. To have one sign is to be as fully un-kosher as
a species that has neither. Leviticus 11:4-7 lists the four species that have one of the
signs and lack one of the signs (and, are, therefore non-kosher species because they lack
possession of the "team" of BOTH mandatory signs [chew the cud AND have split
hooves]). Three of the "one sign" unkosher species chew the cud but do not have
split hooves. The Torah says in verse 7 that the pig has a split hoof but does not chew
the cud, and is therefore unkosher.
The midrash [Vayikra Raba] teaches that
each of these four unkosher species corresponds to one of the four exiles. The midrash
specifies that the pig corresponds to the exile of Rome.
The other three species chew the cud and
lack split hooves. The pig is different from the others: it has a split hoof and does not
chew its cud. This is very significant. The split hooves are an external sign. The pig can
say, "Look. I'm kosher. See my feet? I have split hooves!" But on the inside, he
is non-kosher. This makes the pig totally non-kosher in full measure. If something is not
totally kosher, it is totally unkosher. It's "either/or." It's "all or
nothing." Therefore, exhibiting one kosher symbol, while lacking the "complete
package" of all kosher signs necessary to be genuinely kosher, is worthless. The pig,
Esav, and Western civilization which stems from Esav, are not kosher - just deceptive.
Their values, religion and culture show you their externality, their "kosher
feet" and say, "I am kosher, I am true, I am authentic." But in actuality,
it is all "traif," all "tuma," all poison. In the dark of exile, it
looks superficially to be OK. In the light of Torah, it is nothing.
The exile of Rome, the culture and
civilization of the West, makes an untrue external presentation of legitimacy, of being
"kosher," but there is nothing to it. It is lifeless emptiness. It is nothing.
Rome represents the values of Esav: materialism, militarism, politics, power, absence of
moral absolutes, institutions outside of home and family. Western society derives from
Rome, and therefore, Esav. If Western society represents anything, it represents the pig,
with all the glory associated with garbage, filth and an insatiable appetite.
Similarly, the sages of the Talmud (Chulin
91a) discuss the form in which the angel of Esav appeared to Yakov. Rabbi Shmuel Bar
Nachmani said he appeared like a gentile heathen. Rabbi Shmuel Bar Acha said, in the name
of Raba Bar Ula, that the angel appeared like a Talmudic sage. Why would the Talmud even
care about how the angel of Esav appeared when he wrestled with Yakov? While on the
surface this appears to be an argument between the two rabbis, I suggest that these
statements are two aspects of a single and profound truth. Esav makes the outer
presentation of a distinguished rabbinical scholar. On the inside, he is a gentile
heathen. This supports our thesis that the essence of Esav, and the western civilization
that stems from him and is prevalent in the world today, externally appears to be kosher
and authoritative, while in actuality and in true essence he is "traif," a
heathen and phoney.
This is further supported by a Midrash
Tanchuma to Genesis 25:27, "And the boys [Esav and Yakov] grew and Esav became a man
who knows hunting, a man of the field." We see Esav's inclination for blood from the
verse. Rashi calls him an idle good-for-nothing who takes a bow to kill with. Tanchuma
says that he hunted more than animals. He "hunted to capture and deceive his father
[Yitzchok] with his mouth by asking him, 'Father, how does one tithe salt and straw?' His
father thought that he was scrupulous in fulfilling the commandments."
The commandments of tithing only apply to
bona fide produce such as grains and fruit. Salt and straw are not subject to any tithing.
Esav was mocking Torah law in a way that made it look to Yitzchok that he was going beyond
the law. It was pure manipulation and deceit. Esav was dressed on the outside like a rosh
yeshiva, while on the inside he was a goy. He showed the external split hooves and claimed
he was kosher, while on the inside he was always a totally traif pig. This is western
civilization. If you don't believe this society is fake, read the fine print on any sales
contract; consider that the most richly rewarded workers are actors - who spend their
lives pretending to be everyone besides who they really are - and lawyers and business
people - who often have been known to self-servingly lie and browbeat others to make high
This is the wrestling relationship between
the archangel of Esav and Yakov during the "night" of the exile that stems from
Rome (which comes from Edom, which comes from Esav). The Torah is prophesying that the
descendants of Esav will engage the descendants of Yakov in a battle of life systems,
ideologies and values in a "night" of exile inaugurated and characterized by
We live in a society which stems from Roman
civilization. The values stem from those of Esav. Although Western Society today presents
it's external "kosher foot," its values are the lifelessness of dust, from which
nothing lasting can grow or live. Western values, which are external and callous, can only
present themselves as something real during "night."
Night is the absence of: an environment of
pure, clear Torah light, when the Jews have an independent Torah-based commonwealth. When
the Jews are thus disadvantaged, an insubstantial and lifeless system, predicated on
materialism, power, politics, militarism and absence of absolute morals, can attack and
intrude, and seem to have substance and reality. In the dark, the "feet of the
pig" can be felt. You won't recognize the feet to be those of an unkosher pig.
In such a context, the Jew's value system
of family, marriage, Torah and mitzvos can be weakened, especially when surrounded by a
concerted effort to overtake and dominate Jewish consciousness. Yakov, tied to the
ultimate source of light and life - G-d and His Torah, must repel all intrusion, and
remain strong and vigilant.
Money, power, status in society, the
"me generation," instant gratification. It's so tempting, alluring,
overwhelming. Especially when it comes at you from all directions and with so much glitter
and through so many media.
It's still lifeless, worthless,
meaningless. Even with all the charm. "False is charm and empty is beauty (Proverbs
31:30)." There is only value in that which comes from G-d. Not from Madison Avenue.
Not from college campuses. Not from philosophers. That which originates from a human being
originates from a source that dies. All that stems from such a source, correspondingly,
That which originates from G-d, ultimate
life and the source of life, is forever. To the extent that one's vision is obscured by
the absence of pure Torah in the mind and heart, one may be duped into attributing reality
and substance to the lifeless non-entity of Western values. Such a person is living in
Ironically, critics and attackers of the
Torah, Jewish and non-Jewish, consistently fit into one of two categories: 1. those who
know nothing (or know misrepresentations, or little pieces which are scattered and out of
context) of Torah, and 2. those who have self-serving, subjective vested interests
(generally escaping absolute authority, discipline and morality which limits their
freedom, which conflicts with selfish advantage or which threatens an ego).
I know from my own experience that when
objective, mature, dispassionate and honest non-Jews hear principles from the Torah, they
will recognize the wisdom and express due respect. The Torah itself says (Deuteronomy
4:6), "Guard and do the laws for the Torah is your wisdom and understanding in the
eyes of the nations who will hear these laws and say, 'This great people is a wise and
Marriage is probably the area of life which
most forces a person to face who (s)he really is. Torah allows the Jew to achieve his/her
personal, and therefore marital, potential.
Jews who are too insecure to be Jews, as
defined by the Torah, are, in the eyes of the world, demonstrating their own self-hate and
lack of self-esteem. This is the result when the lifeless darkness of Western values meets
a Jewish soul.
"I have set before you life and death,
blessing and curse; may you choose life, that you and your descendants may live; to love
your G-d and to obey His voice and to cleave to Him, because He is your life and the
length of your lifespan (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)."
Without Torah, the Jewish soul suffocates.
As the Talmud (Brachos 61b) puts it, a Jewish soul without Torah is a fish out of water
WITH A HUNGRY FOX WAITING FOR IT ON THE RIVER BANK. In the end, the Jew without Torah gets
eaten up, one way or another. Marriage, family, business, intermarriage, stress, illness,
accidents, Hitler, Arafat, "tzuros."
To be liked for putting on an act (for
approval) is to be hated for what you truly are and it is your own endorsement of your
being hate-able. This is utmost self-ridicule and lack of self-respect. You can't set
valid standards for your life if they are set on the basis of someone else's rejection of
your true reality. To be a knowledgeable and practicing Jew is the best way to overcome
being insecure about Jewishness, and the only way to exhibit the courage to become one's
My experience has very often shown
significant correlation between secularization of values and intensity in marital
troubles. The Torah is the instruction book for how to succeed in life. It contains a
comprehensive system for making a marriage, family and all aspects of life work, happily
and peacefully. Even some observant people abandon selected Torah teachings, either due to
ignorance or due to self-interest which can arise from human shortcoming. One of the
prices they pay is in the quality of their marriage, family, character or other important
aspects of life. Resolutions for non-pathological and non-chemical problems can generally
be found among our "great people...a wise and understanding nation." If the
honest and objective among the gentiles acknowledge the Torah, how much moreso should the
nation whose heart is the Torah's home.
To those who argue for the equality and
validity of all ideologies, who profess democracy, and who claim that there are no
absolutes, I remind them, that democracy is a Greek idea. The third exile, approximately
240 years before the Roman exile, was the Greek exile. At that time (approximately 2,200
years ago), the Greeks attempted to overthrow Torah and to close the Temple in Jerusalem.
You will recall that this was the occasion
of the Chanuka miracle, in which the "light of Torah" won demonstrably,
decisively and fully, with the full and loving help of G-d. Anyone who accuses me of not
being modern or progressive, ironically bases his position on an ideology that was
miraculously beaten by G-d and miraculously denounced by G-d 2,200 years ago! You light
candles every year to commemorate the defeat of the Greek nation, in whose culture
democracy is based. So much for the ancient and broken relic, democracy, being considered
modern or progressive. Society and values today are clearly crumbling. There are
absolutes. G-d knows more about reality than dead Greeks, or than Europeans and Americans
advocating lifeless values.
And he saw that he could not prevail over
him so he touched Yakov's thigh and put it out of joint in his wrestling with him. And he
said, "Free me for the day is breaking." And he replied, "I will not let
you go unless you bless me." And he said, "What is your name?" and he
replied, "Yakov." And he said, "Your name will no longer be called
"Yakov" but "Israel" for you have contended with G-d and with humans
and prevailed. And Yakov said, "Tell me your name," and he said, "Why do
you ask my name?" [verses 26-30]
Questions four, five, six, seven and eight.
4. What is the significance of the thigh injury? 5. Then (of all the nerve), the mugger is
losing, and demands to be freed - he attacked and, when he doesn't win, he plays innocent
and makes demands? 6. And, Yakov will only let him free if the mugger gives Yakov a
blessing (who is the mugger that Yakov needs his blessing)? 7. Then the mugger
"authorizes" a name change for Yakov (again, who is he to
"authorize")? 8. And when Yakov asks the mugger's name, the mugger has the
CHUTZPA to evade the same question that he just asked of Yakov!
The battle represents a test between the
Jew and the values of Western Society. Night is the time when things are neither seen nor
recognized for what they truly and fully are. Esav has power over the Jew who abandons
his/her attachment and responsibility to Torah.
For us to succeed, we must be undefeated by
the empty, barren and lifeless values of the society around us. The Jew passes this test
by being undefeated, preserving his values and Torah life, and by remaining steadfast with
consistency and integrity; which is spiritual daylight. The only time a Jew fights is in
self-defense. Spiritual attacks are even WORSE than physical attacks. Physical attacks
effect life only in this world. Spiritual attacks are against you in this world AND in
The thigh symbolizes a "base"
upon which standing is dependent. When attack is made on a base, the ability to uphold the
entity which stands on that base is damaged or destroyed. Modern society will attack Torah
values, Torah observance, Torah learning, financial support of Torah. Society will attempt
to hit at the base of Jewish life.
Rabbi Hirsch, consistently brilliant
throughout his authoritative and classic opus, explains the thigh injury. When Yakov
remained steadfast, the attacker tried in a fierce and all-out "last ditch
effort" to remove the ground out from under Yakov to give him nothing to stand on, as
if to give the Jew no claim to exist on earth. Society, towards the end of the 6,000 years
of this stage of earthly existence [i.e. "modern times"], will exert superlative
effort to lame and hinder Judaism. It will take commensurate superlative effort for the
Jew to struggle successfully and succeed.
We have seen such intellectual, spiritual
and physical attacks against Jews and Judaism in recent Jewish history (which is the last
segment of the 6,000 year phase of this world). The Jew in exile is a vulnerable
"sitting duck," subject to physical and spiritual destruction.
Yakov prayed to G-d (verse 12) "Please
save me from the hand of MY BROTHER, the hand of ESAV." Why pray to be saved from
both Yakov's brother AND Esav? He only had one brother. Wouldn't "brother" be
the same as "Esav" and wouldn't "Esav" be the same as
"brother?" Why does the Torah record that Yakov prayed to be saved from both?
Whether the attack is one from the
"brother aspect" (intellectualism, brotherhood, equality, intermarriage,
philosophy, humanism, missionaries, etc.) or whether the attack is the physical attack of
the "Esav aspect" (warrior, murderer, torturer, persecutor, bigot, rioter,
pogrom, inquisition, holocaust, etc.), the Jews desperately need Heaven's help to protect
and save our bodies, souls, character, minds, values, possessions, marriages and progeny.
Being saved from Esav requires separation and shielding from his values, culture and ways
(closeness will spiritually kill) as well as physical protection (from physical killing).
The Jew is to remain steadfast, loyal and diligent at all times.
From the late 1700's to the present
numerous forces have attempted to eliminate Torah: Haskala, Communism, Socialism, Naziism,
Materialism, Judaism without Torah or G-d-given absolutes, Atheism, Secular Zionism,
Missionaries, Cults and assimilation; to name some. Such are the epitome of night.
In the last quarter of a century, the sun
has begun to rise. Torah learning, institutions and observance are on an unprecedented
worldwide upsurge. There are more non-observant Jews than ever before in history seeking
the fulfillment and the clear answers to life-questions provided by the Torah. The Baal
Tshuva (religious returnee) movement has reawakened practical interest in Torah for tens
of thousands of Jews of all ages in all parts of the world. There are more kosher foods
commonly available than ever before. There are sabbath observant communities popping up.
Mikva construction is at the highest rate known in recorded history. People are no longer
afraid to wear a yarmulka to work, on the street or in court (if you don't live in Iraq).
The six-day war removed shame that had been associated with being Jewish (in the 30's, by
contrast, being Jewish wasn't so "in"). There are more Torah observant Jews
alive today than members of the nazi party, members of the Roman senate and Greek
philosophers who came up with the idea of democracy. The angel of Esav finally saw (with
the onset of light) that he couldn't beat Yakov, who remained vigilant and adhered to the
The power of evil is dominant at night.
When "day" comes, Esav loses his power and strength. His "nothingness"
becomes obvious. Yakov refused to let go when he came to clearly see, with the morning
light, the face of his brother Esav. It becomes known and unequivocal that this had been a
confrontation between reality and nothingness. When it is "day," Yakov imposes
the conditions for the end of the fight, at which time Yakov deserves blessing - getting
"paid his due."
The Zohar writes that, like morning, when
light comes gradually, the light of truth is seen gradually about Esav likewise. Esav will
make a final desperate attempt. There will be a marked increase in chutzpa and depravity.
The disparity and gap between Western values and Jewish values will widen. The influence
of Western values will become more forceful and intrusive. People will think themselves
observant and make serious violations. It will be impossible to correct them because they
think themselves too religious, learned and high to be corrected by regular people; like
the heathen who dressed like a Torah scholar. There will be more media through which Esav
will push his way in, to try to distract Jews from Torah, to belittle Torah, to try to
attack and overtake Torah learning, thinking and practice. His messages will seep into
Jewish minds, hearts, homes, families, values, strivings, education, choices,
interpersonal relationships - among those Jews who are not steadfast in their total and
loyal adherence to Torah.
The Midrash (Vayikra Raba) tells us that
G-d showed Yakov the guardian angels of the four powers which would exile the Jews. When
Yakov saw (in a dream, reported in Genesis 28:12) the angels of the first three nations
climb the ladder which went up to Heaven, Yakov also saw them come down. When it came to
the angel of Edom (Rome), the angel went up but didn't come down. This indicated that the
power of Rome and its dominion over the Jewish people would never end. Jacob was
frightened that the exile of Rome would never end, and G-d told him, "Do not be
afraid, my servant, Yakov (Jeremiah 30:10)." G-d told Yakov, "Even if He ascend
and sit himself next to Me, I will bring him down Myself." The prophet Ovadia says,
"G-d says thus of Edom...I will make you small among the nations, you are very
despised. The malicious intent in your heart has deceived you. You consider yourself
protected as one who lives in a rock, as one who dwells on high, saying in your heart,
'Who will bring me down to the earth?' Though you fly high like the eagle, and even if you
set your nest among the stars, 'From there I will bring you down,' says G-d (Ovadia
Much of the message of the above midrash
hinges on the relationship between the verse in Genesis, the verse in Jeremiah and
Ovadia's prophesy about the eventual downfall of Roman influence and Roman-derived society
and values in the world. One of the most amazing things about the above midrash lies in
who Ovadia the Prophet was. He was not a native-born Jew. He was a convert. From which
nation id he convert and become a righteous and scholarly Jew? He came from Edom! He saw -
from the "inside" - Edom's evil, arrogance and emptiness. He worked his way to
such Torah, spiritual greatness and loyalty to G-d that he merited communication from G-d.
He was uniquely equipped to understand and teach the message of eventual downfall that
would come to the forces of Rome.
One of my Torah teachers, Rabbi Avrohom
Asher Zimmerman, explained the midrash and the verses in Jeremiah and Ovadia as follows.
Western civilization will seem to be all-powerful, to have all the answers, and to fly
high even up to the heavens (even to the stars - outer space). All of this means nothing.
G-d Himself will supervise the downfall of the society of Esav and He will raise up the
society of Yakov - those who are loyal to G-d's Torah. "Do not be afraid, my servant,
Further on in this chapter of Ovadia, he
prophesies, "For your crimes against your brother Yakov your shame will cover you and
you will be exterminated forever...as you have done will be done to you...and on Mount
Zion [the Temple Mount] there will be deliverance, and there will be holiness and the
House of Yakov will possess their own possessions. And the house of Yakov will be fire and
the house of his righteous son will be flame and the house of Esav will be straw and they
will kindle and consume Esav and there will not be any remaining of the house of Esav, for
G-d said this. And the officers of salvation will go up Mount Zion to judge the Mount of
Esav and [it will clear to the entire world that] G-d will be king (Ovadia 1:10-21)."
The symbol of many nations is the eagle.
They seem to be powerful and to "fly high." The prophesy is even more intriguing
when we consider that such nations have air-born technologies that can fly high up into
the sky. They may grow quite arrogant. But, G-d himself will bring evil ones down, no
matter how powerful they are, in the long run. Only those of non-Jewish nations who are
loyal to the rule of G-d and who are beneficent to his servant Jacob, the Jewish people,
will be saved.
By the way, another profound aspect of the
above midrash is that the name "Ovadia" means "servant of G-d." Which
brings us to our next point.
A name, in Hebrew, has meaning. A name
describes the essence nature of the one named. For example, when a baby is born, Heaven
puts into the mind of the parents the name whose meaning corresponds to the essence soul
and personality of that child. G-d's Hebrew names all describe characteristics that He
wants us to think of in association with Him (Hashem - mercy, Elokim - stern judge, Kail -
all-powerful, Shakai - Creator of all, Adnuss - ruler, etc.).
When Yakov prevails, his name will have to
be changed to reflect the successful use of his free choice and energies.
"Yakov" means "under the heal," the downtrodden "underdog."
That's the way Yakov starts out in the "bout" with Esav, the exile of the last
2,000 years. The ultimate truth always is that the Torah is more powerful than all of
Esav's this-worldly wiles and resources. Yakov beat powerful, formidable enemies with
spiritual power and devotion to G-d.
The angel told Yakov that his name was
changed from Yakov to Yisroel. Pirkai DeRebi Eliezer (chapter 37) says that the angel's
name was Yisroel and he changed Yakov's name to be like his own. This further supports our
point. Today, those of the west claim to be the most authentic, most progressive, most
advanced people and civilization. The Christians, also stemming from Rome (some even call
themselves "Roman"), claim to be the "new Israel." They call us
"Hebrews," but, in their estimation, we are no longer Israel. They claim that
they are. They consider themselves as having the true religion. We are
"has-beens." Esav, his archangel, the society and religion that stem from Esav,
present themselves to be legitimate while invalidating us. But in the end, we come out
Israel. Only we are authentic, legitimate and victorious.
"Yisroel [Israel]" has two
meanings [stemming from two ways to pronounce the consonants of his name]: "contended
and won [Yisroel]" and "G-d's honest one [Yoshor Kail]," which aptly
describe Yakov's ultimate capability and character. Now that it is "day," the
truth is clear for all to see. Even Esav has to admit that his brother has transformed
from "Yakov" to "Yisroel." The human-like agent was despatched by G-d
to execute the test to Yakov. Yakov contended with G-d and with man, was steadily
trustworthy, passed the tests, and won.
Similarly for us, whenever a human being
who comes into our life puts us into any position of spiritual test, the person is an
agent sent to us by G-d. Relationships and life circumstances challenge us; demand
choices, refinement, character and growth from us. The humans in Western Society will be
sent by G-d to attempt to influence, capture, overtake the Jew; his heart, mind, body and
soul. The tests, influences and temptations will be forceful. It might manifest by causing
one to become discourteous, to be driven after money, to be self-centered, to hurt
feelings and not care, to be more preoccupied with style rather than modesty in clothes,
to be argumentative, to weaken in Torah learning or observance in any way(s) or hundreds
of other manifestations. We are obligated to be motivated, to improve, to see that G-d has
sent us an opportunity for benefit that we could not have any other way. In short, we,
too, must contend with G-d and man, be steadily trustworthy, pass tests and win.
G-d gives each person life situations to
deal with at every moment. Each such moment/situation in life is a test given for the
purpose of passing that test (Mesilas Yesharim). All we have the power to do is to use
free will choice to decide whether to serve G-d or to serve oneself. The person may chose
to do what he himself wants or he may choose to fear G-d and do what Hashem wants (Brachos
33b and Rashi to Deuteronomy 10:12). Each event in life is a test from G-d. Each moment in
life is given in order that we pass each test and proceed on to the next moment and next
divine test. Life, therefore, is a string of ongoing tests and, hopefully, a successful
"track record" that enables us, over the course of a lifetime, to earn G-d's
Yakov wrestled ("fought in the
dust") with G-d and man and won. All of Yakov's adversity represents nesoyon, test
from G-d. Throughout history, G-d has sent the Jew tests, through the agency of other
people, Jew and non-Jew, to test each Jew in various ways. For example, when G-d sends
another Jew into one's life, G-d sees if we do business honestly, practice kindness and
courtesy; or refrain from quarrel, nastiness, anger, grudge, loshon hora (evil speech
against another Jew), from talking in shul or prohibited immorality. When G-d sends the
gentile, He watches for whether we assimilate into his culture or religion, drink his
wine, intermarry, breach peace, do anything which profanes G-d's name, or compromises
Torah in any way or at any time (daily conduct, halacha observance, values, ideology,
belief, etc.) because of the interchange with or exposure to the gentile.
Yakov wrestled with G-d and man, and won.
Yakov showed us perseverance. Yakov was uncompromising, committed and undefeatable. Yakov
won. He was contending with a human form, but it was, ultimately, an agent sent as a test
from G-d. Yakov is the Jew's model. He "wrestled with G-d and man" and won.
Throughout history, G-d will be sending
agents, human and circumstantial, to each Jew, to test him, his steadfastness, his loyalty
to G-d. The Jew in the night of this long, hard exile, must "wrestle with G-d and
man;" must remain strong, vigorous, loyal and unbending. The Jew, the servant of G-d,
The name for G-d used here is
"Elokim," which refers to G-d's aspect as stern, exacting judge. The test
contained no help, no "handicap," no favoritism, no special advantage. Yakov
used his power of free will choice. He earnestly strove and struggled. Yakov earned his
victory. He deserved all the credit and reward that was coming to him. In the end, all
blessing goes to "Yisroel," the Jew who wins in a battle of free will choice.
For Esav, it is the opposite.
When Yakov and Esav re-united, and they
asked each other how they each are, Esav said (Genesis 33:9), "I have a lot."
Since he only desired things of this world, he could never be satiated so he didn't have
"ALL." He never had enough. There would always be more of this world to still
Yakov, on the other hand, who understood
that the spiritual world was the essential one, said, (Genesis 33:11), "I have
everything." He had his material needs met and was satisfied. He had "ALL."
His strivings, concentration and priorities were in the spiritual life at every moment.
Yakov was the "Perfect man who dwelled in the tents" [of Torah, using his time
for learning; Genesis 25:27]. He knew his main purpose was to work in spirituality.
Therefore, by having enough, his materialism was complete. But, he saw himself as
incomplete - always needing to work spiritually, to elevate, to repair himself and grow.
Esav, in contrast, means "made,"
i.e. the man who thinks he is spiritually complete and perfect. He thought he needed no
spiritual work or perfection and only needed to work in the physical realm.
This is the essential difference in a
nutshell between the Jew and the gentile in our present golus Edom (exile of Rome). Yakov
was materially satisfied and in need of spiritual completion. Esav was spiritually
satisfied and in need of material completion.
We say, when a baby boy receives his
circumcision (bris, literally "covenant"), "The same way that he enters the
covenant, may he enter to Torah, to marriage and to good deeds (siddur)." This tells
us that a child is raised to 1. Torah, 2. get married and 3. do good deeds. We see that
good deeds comes AFTER marriage. You might ask, "Why not good deeds before marriage?
Don't we want to know that someone is capable of good behavior before someone marries him?
However, in Torah, the essential life is after marriage. The true goals of life are
achieved by a couple who are building a family and contributing to the world. If one is
truly a Torah person, he learns in order to marry and then live a purposeful and
constructive adult life of Torah and good deeds. Yakov had a normal bris when he was eight
days old. He started his spiritual life at the age of eight days. The same way that he
entered the bris, he entered marriage and life - on a lifelong road of spiritual pursuit,
perfection and completion. Esav never had a bris. Spiritually, he never even got started.
He changed his name to Edom, which means
"red," i.e. who thirsts for blood. He thought he could do anything. In the end,
when the "sun" and "light" of redemption come, Esav is stripped of his
strong, imposing identity and position. His barrenness, his emptiness, his
"nothingness essence" is exposed. His claims are negated and canceled. It is now
clearly revealed that he is the empty imposter and phoney that he always was. Israel
prevails. When Yakov asked him his name, Esav was too embarrassed to reply. When one is
nothing, how could he have a name?
And he blessed him there. And Yakov called
the name of the place "Paniel" for [it means] "I have seen G-d face to face
and my life is saved" [verses 30-31].
Question nine. Why does the Torah specify
The Torah is making the specific point that
it was in Yakov's spiritual steadfastness and loyalty that he was blessed. Just like the
battle which the Torah describes is actually the spiritual battle between the Jew in this,
our fourth exile, and the outside society, the blessing refers to the Jew's spiritual
place, not to Yakov's geographical place. It is when the Jew is spiritually steadfast and
loyal that he is blessed - when his spiritual situation is "there." When the Jew
today, spiritually attacked by the onslaught of outside culture and values, stands up
firmly and effectively and remains steadily and strongly in the "way of G-d," he
is blessed "there" as a result of his spiritual victory.
When Yakov exerted himself to do the will
of G-d, G-d blessed his efforts with success. The Jew has to arouse effort, commitment,
self-sacrifice and energy to do the will of G-d. If the effort is sincere, as evidenced by
struggle, integrity and perseverance, G-d will help. The one who honestly exerts himself
for G-d achieves eventual success (Megila 6b).
Yakov's spiritual life was saved. When it
was all over and "the coast was clear," he had time and peace of mind to reflect
on all that transpired. He saw G-d's involvement and salvation. He hadn't been alone - he
had been tested.
The purpose of G-d's bringing the barren,
callous, superficial and valueless Western Society into the world is specifically to test
the Jew who lives in it. When the Jew passes the test, G-d manifests the salvation and
blessing within the Jew's victory "there."
And the sun shone for him [verse 32].
And question ten. Didn't the sun rise for
every mountain, blade of grass, nanny goat and bug?
No. The sun did not shine for every
mountain, blade of grass, nanny goat and bug.
The sun literally shone for Yakov - in the
merit of Yakov's struggle and victory; for Yakov, the husband, father, true paragon of
learning and living Torah. Just as the sun nourishes and gives light to the physical
world, the Torah nourishes and gives light to the soul. Because Yakov's soul
* separated from and
* won out against
the this-worldly force, the sun's coming up
and shining was a reflection of Yakov's superlative spiritual condition. This is the
measure and the character of the Jew's spiritual victory - and of its reward. The sun
shines in the merit of those who are innocent in the eyes of G-d [Vayikra Raba, Emor].
Life is to be lived in accordance with
loyalty to Torah, steadfastness in the service of G-d. Business must be conducted
honestly. We must impact kindly and politely on other people. We must behave with
reverence in synagogue, with due respect for the holiness of the place. We must raise
healthy Torah-loyal children. We must set aside regular times for Torah study both day and
night. We must be an inspiration to gentiles who witness us and our conduct. Divorce; or a
marriage of misery, of disharmony or even of mediocrity; is no accomplishment. A happy,
functional and peaceful marriage IS an accomplishment.
May you proceed in all areas of life, so
that the sun can shine for you and, in your spiritual superiority, G-d can bless you