Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vayishlach by Reb Jay

“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not overcome him (Yaakov), he struck the socket of his hip...Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the gid hanasheh to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip socket on the displaced sinew” (Bereshis 32:25-26, 32).

There are many questions to be asked from this incident. Who wrestled with Yaakov? What did he want from him? What does it mean, when he (the malach) could not overcome Yaakov, he injured him? And finally, why do we not eat of the gid hanasheh till this very day?

The Midrash states that Yaakov’s wrestling partner was actually the sar of Esav. Obviously a nation’s angel stands for the interest of the nation that it is representing. The Michtav M’Eliyahu writes that the angel that represented Esav was the yetzer hara itself.

How was Esav’s evil manifest? In his mocking of all things good. We see this in the answer that the angel of Esav gave to Yaakov when asked his name: “why do you ask me for my name?” The simple meaning of this answer is, why do you care what my name is? But it could also be read, my name is, “why is this?” To anything that is worthwhile or serious, the response of Eisav is to mock, and to scorn, to ask “why is this” (this, in fact, was what Esav said regarding his birthright, “what is this birthright to me?”).

The “fight” between Yaakov and the angel of Esav was not a physical one. It was a spiritual battle for the neshamos of future generations. Will we look at our birthright as an honor and as an obligation to improve the world, as Yaakov did, or will we look at it as a joke, at something to make fun of, as Esav did. This was truly a battle for the ages.

What does it mean, “and he (the malach) saw that he was unable to over come him (Yaakov)”? This posuk teaches us that there is no inherent weakness in Klal Yisrael. If so, how did the malach injure Yaakov? And when the angel of Esav saw that Yaakov was going to be triumphant, he found a spiritual weakness in him. The Zohar says this weakness was lack of support for Torah study, that Klal Yisrael would not take the study of Torah seriously enough. And it was this weakness which was able to prevent the clear victory of Yaakov. In other words, it is never possible for any nation to overcome Klal Yisrael on their own merits/strength; only through our own weakness are we vulnerable.

The Chinuch gives a moving explanation as to why we do not eat the gid hanasheh until today. He writes that when we do not eat this gid hanasheh, it is to remind us that in the course of our galus, we will undergo much pain and suffering. But we must always remember that as dark as it may seem, just as Yaakov was healed by the first rays of the sun, so will all of Israel be redeemed at the dawn of the Moshiach, after our long night of galus.

It is incumbent upon us to remember what the weakness the angel of Esav—the yetzer hara—found in Yaakov, and how only through strengthening ourselves in Torah—both learning and supporting—can we can fight and overcome the yetzer hara.

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