Parasha Inspiration – Vayishlach

וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּֽאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר: וַיַּ֗רְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יָכֹל֙ ל֔וֹ וַיִּגַּ֖ע בְּכַף־יְרֵכ֑וֹ וַתֵּ֨קַע֙ כַּף־יֶ֣רֶךְ יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב בְּהֵאָֽבְק֖וֹ עִמּֽוֹ: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שַׁלְּחֵ֔נִי כִּ֥י עָלָ֖ה הַשָּׁ֑חַר וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֲשַׁלֵּֽחֲךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־בֵּֽרַכְתָּֽנִי: וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו מַה־שְּׁמֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַֽעֲקֹֽב: וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַֽעֲקֹב֙ יֵֽאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל:

And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob’s hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him. And he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Jacob) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with G-d and with men, and you have prevailed.” –

Genesis 32:25-29

This week’s Torah portion contains the story of Jacob’s name being changed to Israel. The structure of the story is odd and gives us clues that there is more going on than meets the eye. 32:25 tells us that Jacob was alone, and yet he was wrestling with a man. How could he be alone and wrestling with a man at the same time?

The standard answer to the question amongst Jewish commentators is that the “man” is really an angel. How could Jacob wrestle with an angel? The term here translated “wrestled” is אבק, which can be wrestled, contended with, or struggled. So, the intent of the verse does not necessarily indicate a physical fight, but rather a mental struggle or argument. Consequently, in 32:26, when the verse says that “he could not prevail against him,” it does not have to mean that Jacob used his best WWF move and won a physical match. Rather, that Jacob contended verbally and could not be defeated.

Further evidence of this is contained in the name Israel. Jacob is now being called Israel because שר, Jacob contended with, or more precisely, that Jacob engaged in debate and his executive decision prevailed. Over whom did Jacob prevail? 32:26 tells us that Jacob’s new name is ישר אל, or, “he who won the debate with G-d.”

So we have three contenders for the identity of the being with whom Jacob debated. 1) 32:25 tells us that this was a man. 2) Jewish commentary consistently explains that this “man” was really an angel. 3) 32:26 explains Jacob’s new name is given because he debated with G-d. The text is not clear as to which of these three options are accurate. What makes the most, therefore, is that all three options are correct. Jacob debated with a man who is G-d. That is, Messiah. Jacob debated with an angel who is G-d. That is, Messiah, or rather, Messiah in the form of an angel. Kabbalists explain that Messiah in the form of an angel is named Metatron, and it is Metatron that debated with Jacob. Metatron encapsulates the divine nature of the Messiah, and so, Metatron is Messiah, who is G-d. Finally, we see that Messiah/Metatron/G-d is defeated in argument by Jacob. In this way, naming Jacob ישראל, he who won the debate with G-d, makes sense. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.