Although Jacob has his leg dislocated, he emerges victorious from the wrestling match.
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayishlach” (Genesis 32:4-36:43), the focus of which is the encounter between Jacob and his brother Esav after so many years apart. It was 34 years ago that Jacob ran away from Esav, who threatened to kill him for having “stolen” his birthright even though Esav has given it up willingly at the time. Jacob is nervous. “Is Esav still angry?”, “Has he forgiven me?”, “Will war break out between our camps or will he “make up” with me?” Jacob wasn’t sure what to expect – so he prepared for anything and everything.
Just before the two brothers were about to meet face-to-face, Jacob has a mysterious encounter with a strange “man”. Our sages teach us that this man was actually was the patron angel of Esav, and he engaged Jacob in a wrestling match that lasted all night long. Yes, that’s right. Wrestling with an angel all night long. Sometimes Jacob would prevail; at other times the angel overpowered him. Over and over, all night long.
Although Jacob has his leg dislocated, he emerges victorious from the wrestling match. Before the angel leaves, however, Jacob demands that the angel bless him. The angel blesses him by changing his name from “Jacob” to “Israel”, a word which means “he who wrestles with man and God and prevails.”
The Torah tells us “and the man wrestled with Jacob”. The word for “wrestle” is “va’ya’avek”. Our sages teach us that the word “va’ya’avek” was two meanings. The first meaning is “dust”. Indeed, in modern Hebrew, “dust” is called “avak”. The word “avak” in this context refers to what happens when two people wrestle each other on the ground: dust, dirt, and earth gets dislodged and kicked around causing the wrestlers to get quite dirty. The other meaning of “va’ya’avek” relates it to the word “dveikut” which means to “attach” or “cling” as wrestlers do when battling each other.
The two meanings of “va’ya’avek” are a lesson for us on how we must deal with our enemies. Sometimes we must confront our enemies head on. That’s the “avak” – an angels lies in ambush waiting for Yaakov. It’s clear who the enemy is. His hatred is clear. His intentions are obvious. He leaves us no choice – fight back with everything we’ve got. But then there is the enemy of “dveikut” – who appears to be a friend who wishes to “attach” himself to us. He puts on a ruse that he wishes to “cling” to us. A hug, or perhaps an embrace of sorts. But we know the truth. He too, wishes for nothing but our destruction. Both types of enemies are deadly.
Fast forward 2500 years. It seems that Esav’s angel is back again. It’s called Hamas. Hamas is the enemy that represents BOTH interpretations. With their missiles they raise dust and dirt, death and destruction. We know them too well. We have to fight back with all we have. Smash them. Wrestle them until they beg for mercy. At the same time, Hamas also deceives the world trying to have us believe that they are a humanitarian, peace loving organization that deserves a respected place in the community of nations. They’re trying to “cling” but we know who they really are.
As they say, history repeats itself. We see it all too well. But this time, we’re prepared.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel