Jacob’s dedication to learning Torah, and his descendants’ embrace of this value, poses the biggest threat to those who seek the Jewish people’s destruction.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayishlach” (Genesis 32:4–36:43) and in it we read the famous story of Jacob who is attacked by a mysterious individual, (who our sages say was really Esav’s guardian angel), with whom he wrestles all night long.
The commentaries are overflowing with interpretations and symbolism inherent in this encounter. We are told that it was not merely a match between Jacob and Esav, but rather, it represented the eternal “match” between the Jewish people and our enemies for all time. The angel was not merely trying to conquer Jacob, he was trying to set a precedent of showing the world that the Jews can be bullied and defeated.
Although Jacob gained the upper hand and essentially won the wrestling match, he was left injured with a dislocated hip. Our sages teach us that this represents the fact that although the Jews will be attacked over and over again throughout history – no one will be able to destroy them. Injure them, yes. Annihilate them, no.
The question is asked: If a bad angel wanted to attack a patriarch and destroy the Jewish people, why did the angel choose to attack Jacob? Why not attack Abraham, the first Jew who brought monotheism to the world? And if he would have missed the opportunity to attack Abraham, why not attack Isaac, patriarch #2, who never left the land of Israel which further symbolized the Jewish people’s ownership of the land? Why do the bad guys wait until Jacob comes on the scene to start up with us?
The answer, it is explained, is based on what each of the patriarchs represented. Each of the patriarchs represented a different facet or angle of Judaism. Abraham represented kindness and generosity towards others. The evil angels did not attack Abraham because they didn’t feel threatened by him. They knew that Abraham’s preaching to the world to be nice to others would not ensure that the Jews would be around forever or even prominent. So too, it is not an exclusively Jewish quality to be nice. There are plenty of kind and generous non-Jews out there, as well!
Isaac, the second patriarch, represented sacrifice. Recall that Isaac was ready to be sacrificed upon an alter like an animal if that would have been the will of God. Isaac represented dedicating one’s entire being to God. Nowadays, Isaac’s ‘attribute’ is represented by prayer. Prayer is an act in which we pause and focus exclusively on God. But prayer, too, would not ensure that the Jews would be around forever or even prominent. So too, prayer is not an exclusively Jewish quality. There are plenty of non-Jews who pray to the same God, as well. Hence, the evil angels were not threatened by Isaac, either.
Jacob, on the other hand, represented Torah study. That was the pursuit in which he excelled. This is something that scared the evil angels tremendously! Why? Because Torah study is the one and only secret (and guarantee!) of the survival of the Jewish people! When the bad angels saw that Jacob was passing on the trait of commitment to Torah study, and by extension, a commitment to observing the mitzvot, he went nuts! He needed to put a quick end to that stuff if he ever wanted to see the Jewish people destroyed!
Indeed, wherever the Jewish people had Torah education, they thrived and survived, and in places where we lacked Jewish education – we assimilated into oblivion. Take it from the bad guys: if you want your children to remain Jewish, if you want the Jewish people to survive, make sure you and your family are committed to Torah study. It is the only guarantee that we have for our survival.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:
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