A mysterious interaction between Yakov and an angel reveals an eternal truth about the fate of the nations of the world.
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 of the infamous wrestling match between Yakov and a mysterious man. Many commentators insist that this “man” was actually an angel, and not just any angel, but Esav’s guardian angel. As they say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and hence Esav’s guardian angel was just as evil as Esav himself.
Yakov and the angel wrestle all night long. Nobody seems to be winning the match. Finally, just before the crack of dawn, the angel manages to dislocate Yakov’s thigh. This leaves Yakov injured and limping. Nevertheless, Yakov manages to restrain the angel, not allowing him to escape. Just before morning the angel pleads with Yakov to release him because “the dawn is breaking.” It is explained that this angel’s mission “expired” at dawn, and he was forced to return to heaven (curfew!).
Yakov’s answer to the angel following his request to be released is fascinating.
Yakov tells the angel “I will not release you until you bless me.”
The angel responds “What’s your name?” and Yakov tells him that his name is Yakov. The angel then says these immortal words: “Your name shall no longer be Yakov, but Israel (Yisrael), for you have struggled with both humans and angels, and have prevailed.” (The name “Israel” can also be translated as “having struggled with the Divine”.)
So Yakov then reasonably asks, “So now tell me your name.” The angel responds: “Why do you ask for my name?” Then he disappears. Gone.
Why did Yakov want to know the angel’s name? We are told it was because he wanted to reciprocate and bless the angel.
To better understand this exchange, we need to explore the Jewish approach to giving blessings. In Jewish tradition, in order to properly and fully bless someone, one is required to mention their name, preferably along with the name of their father and/or mother, as well.
This is why the angel wanted to know Yakov’s name. He wanted to properly bless him, which in this case, was a change of name. A change of name that alluded to promises and success for the future of the Jewish people. And as mentioned, Yakov wanted to know the angel’s name in order to bless him, but the angel did not reveal his name.
The reason was because the angel knew the promises of Genesis, including: “Those who bless you I will bless.” In other words, the angel did not need to give Yakov his name, and in fact, did not even need a blessing from Yakov at all because the angel knew that he would be automatically blessed for having blessed Yakov.
The angel knew that those who bless the Jews will receive their own blessings from God. Hence, the angel thought “I don’t need to give him my name. I don’t even need his blessing. Because I blessed him, God Himself will bless me!” And with that, the angel disappeared.
I don’t like to “toot my own horn”, or in this case, the Jewish people’s horn, but we can’t hide from the truth either. Those who bless the Jews will themselves be blessed! It’s God’s promise. So whether you’re Jewish or not, bless the Jews, help the Jews, associate with the Jews, and you yourself will reap the rewards.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:
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