A Drash for VaYislach (5781)
by Marc Mangel
The setting: Yaakov is alone on the East Bank of the Jabbok (Ch 32, v 25).
The event (Ch 32, v 26-29): Yaakov wrestles all night with a being, but neither predominates. In the morning Yaakov is told that he will also be called Israel, meaning ‘one who has wrestled with God’. Later, (Ch 35, v 10) God intercepts Yaakov and confirms “You will no longer [solely] be called by the name Yaakov, but rather Israel shall [also] be your name”.
With whom did Yaakov wrestle and why was he given a second name? To answer this, we need to go back to the end of last week’s parsha. There, Laban takes leave of Yaakov and his family to return to his home, and Yaakov continues on his way, where (Ch 32, v 2): “angels of God went out to great him” – angels of God are “malachai Elohim”.
Our parsha begins when Yaakov communicates with Esau that he is returning. To do so, Yaakov sent messengers, “VaYislach Yaakov malachim”, ahead of him to his brother. What does ‘malachim’ mean here?
The Steinsaltz, Hirsch, and JPS Chumashim translate ‘malachim’ as ‘messengers’. However, the Art Scroll and Rebbe’s Chumash translate ‘malachim’ as ‘angels’, which we would expect based on the end of the previous parsha. The simplest interpretation is that Yaakov calls on his angels to take a message to Esau.
It is then natural that Yaakov’s message is delivered to the angels of Esau. Rashi tells us Yaakov wrested with Esau’s guardian angel, taking the form of a man, until daybreak.
Were we at CKT together, I would read Ch 32, v 25-30 from the Rebbe’s Chumash to you since it has Rashi interpolated in the translation, but writing it out would take too much space. I have scanned the relevant pages and if you would like to see them, let me know firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send them to you.
That’s the process by which Yaakov is renamed. What is the implication?
In the first volume of Daily Insight – a compendium of the Rebbe’s insights on the Torah portion – the Rebbe wrote
“Yaakov’s two names represent the two ways in which interact with the world. Sometimes the material world our or own materialistic tendencies can get in the way of our Divine consciousness or mission in life…[At other times] our challenge, like ‘Israel’, is to bring the world to a higher level of Divine consciousness and to promote our own spiritual growth”.
As we will see in future Torah readings, the inner battle of Yaakov/Israel, the battle between living in the material world and living in the divine, continues until his death.
Yaakov/Israel provides a role model for us, and we should be grateful.
Avram going to Avraham was complete. Yaakov to Israel is never complete. He is continually wrestling with his materialistic self and his spiritual self.
Abraham is an ancestor who achieved spiritual perfection, but that is a difficult role model for us to follow. Lucky for us, we are the Children of Israel, and in Yaakov/Israel we have a role model for the continual struggle that we face between the material and the divine. We will sometimes fail, but we should never be disappointed and must continue the struggle to reach the divine.