Life Lessons from Ya’akov by Eitan Leff


This week’s Parashah contains the famous preparations of Ya’akov before he meets with his brother Eisav. As Ya’akov and his family prepare to meet Eisav, they cross a stream; however, Ya’akov remains alone on the other side of the stream by himself, where it is written, “VaYei’aveik Ish Imo Ad Alot HaShachar,” “And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn” (BeReishit 32:25). While Chazal interpret this Ish to be an angel, there is a dispute amongst later opinions regarding the identity of this angel, the majority believing that this is an angel of Eisav, with the minority believing that it is actually an angel of Ya’akov.

The Ramban (32:26 s.v. VaYar Ki Lo Yachol Lo) asserts that the angel was an angel of Eisav. He explains this event as symbolizing the struggle between Ya’akov, the Jews, and Eisav, identified as Edom, throughout the generations. The angel wrestling with Ya’akov and injuring him represents how Eisav will control Ya’akov until near extinction. However, as happens in the story, Ya’akov survives and ultimately prevails; similarly, the Jews will do the same. In fact, the Midrash (Pesikta Zutra, BeReishit 32:25) states that the fight between Ya’akov and the angel is a representation of the wars the Jews will have against other nations. “Until the break of dawn” should be understood as, “until the moment of our redemption,” meaning that although we will pay a huge price in our fights, as represented by Ya’akov’s injury, ultimately, we will be redeemed.

Before attempting to understand the minority opinion in this debate, we must consider one of the most puzzling questions which arises from this story: why did Ya’akov remain alone on the other side of the river from his family? Rashi (32:25 s.v. VaYivateir Ya’akov) famously quotes a Gemara (Chullin 91a) which states that Ya’akov returned to retrieve the small jars he had left at the campsite. The Rashbam (ad loc. s.v. VaYei’aveik Imo), though, states that Ya’akov was actually trying to flee from Eisav. Ya’akov knew that Eisav intended to kill only him, and not his family, because their grudge was merely between the two of them. The Rashbam, contrary to the Ramban, says that the angel was an angel of Ya’akov. The angel fights with Ya’akov to reinforce the promise from Hashem that Eisav will not harm him.

Rav Zev Leff, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Gedolah Matisyahu, expounds this Rashbam to apply to everyday problems. He explains that when we are faced with a problem, we should never run away from the problem, but face it head-on, trusting that everything will work out as Hashem intends. Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz furthers this notion and believes that we should enjoy the challenges that we are faced with.

We are unfortunately reminded on a day-to-day basis that we have many enemies that would like to harm us; however, we cannot simply avoid them. Just as we must not ignore the recent terrible attacks on Jews, we must not make our lives miserable because of them. We must enjoy life, despite the fact that there are challenging moments, and we must fight through our struggles. Just as Ya’akov was ultimately successful in his battle, we, too, will be successful in our battles and eventually live in peace and harmony.

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