|This week I want to begin by reading the 2 verses that come before this portion. The verses state, “So Jacob went on his way (after leaving Laban), and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, ‘This is God’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” Why did angels meet Jacob at this point in his journey? Remember Jacob’s dream of a ladder upon which angels were ascending and descending? Rabbi Levi Cooper writes that both of these incidents point to “a rabbinic tradition that distinguishes between angels that accompany a person in the Holy Land and angels that accompany a person in the Diaspora.” When Jacob had his dream, he was about to leave the land of Israel. These incidents were both a “changing of the angel guard.” But why did Diaspora angels meet Jacob when he was still in the Land (at the time of his dream)? And why are the Holy Land angels meeting Jacob before he enters the Holy Land? Rabbi Avraham Dov clarifies “that since Jacob was on the road to the Land of Israel, Holy Land angels were already accompanying him.” When Jacob left the land of Israel, his mind was already in exile. As a result, Diasporic angels met and escorted him out of the Holy Land. With Jacob now returning, his mind is set for the Promised Land. For this reason, Holy Land angels meet him outside the Promised Land in order to guide him safely to his destination. Holy Land angels and Diasporic angels are not limited to the borders of Israel; rather, they are limited by the thoughts and intentions of each individual. As the sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 84, “Blessed is the man…whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” Meaning, Holy Land angels are among all whose minds are set on leaving the Diaspora and returning to God and His Holy Land, whether they be close to arriving or still far away on their journey out of spiritual/physical exile.
|The first verse of this portion begins by saying, “V’yishlach Yaakov Malachim L’fanav El-Esav Achiv—Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother.” However the word “Malachim—Messengers” can also be translated as “Angels.” We could read this verse as “Then Jacob sent angels before him to Esau his brother.” Rabbi Levi Cooper writes “since Jacob now had his Holy Land angels, he could use his Diaspora angels as couriers to Esau without being left alone, unprotected by God’s messengers.” Why did Jacob send angels to Esau rather than human messengers? The Ramchal wrote of this verse, “Yaakov was about to confront his brother Esav and before doing so he wished to overpower the forces of evil which Esav represented…Yaakov therefore sent angels, rooted in gevurah, strength, in the hopes of defeating the forces of Esav.” In other words, Jacob recognized the truth we read of in the book of Ephesians. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Jacob saw the struggle between him and his brother as a spiritual war, not so much a physical confrontation. Jacob knew that if he could defeat the spirit of Esau by sending heavenly warriors (angels) on ahead, the meeting between him and Esau would go a lot smoother. The struggle between Jacob and Esau was a spiritual battle, so Jacob approached this meeting between brothers by attempting to defeat the spiritual giants that may have stood in the way of full reconciliation. Jacob could have taken a roundabout route and not gone through the Land of Seir (Esau), but instead, he took the initiative in seeking to be reconciled. When the messengers returned to Jacob they said, “We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Upon hearing the words of the messengers it says that Jacob “[became] greatly afraid and distressed” The sages say that Jacob prepared for the confrontation with Esau in 3 ways, “Battle, Prayer and Tribute.” Jacob “readied himself and his camp for a battle to the death, he threw himself upon God’s mercy through prayer, and he sent a lavish tribute to appease Esau’s anger” (Artscroll Chumash Commentary). Jacob was prepared for every type of situation that might confront him.
He divided his camp into 2 parts saying, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.” After making these arrangements and pleading with the God of his fathers, verse 24 tells us, “Then Jacob was left alone.”
In the Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 77:1, Rabbi Berechiah quotes Rabbi Simon as saying, “…who is like God? Grandfather Israel. Just as, regarding the Holy Blessed One, it is written, ‘None but the LORD shall be Exalted in that day’ (Isaiah 2:17), even for Jacob [it is written], ‘Jacob was left alone.’” Just as God alone will be exalted in the end of days, so Jacob was alone in his turmoil. Jacob, in “being alone” was emulating a trait of God Himself. Jacob, though all would forsake him, was willing to stand-alone for what he believed in. According the sages, this verse, “Jacob was left alone,” is explained to mean that Jacob had forgotten some small earthenware pitchers and had returned to bring them back. The Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) said the reason Jacob returned for these items are because “the righteous realize that if the Almighty gave them something, it is important for them to have it. If it were not necessary for their total welfare, the Almighty would not have given it to them.” However, Rashbam says of this verse that, Jacob, fearing a confrontation with Esau wanted to run away. God had to send an Angel to wrestle with him to keep him from fleeing. Jacob used the excuse of finding some missing utensils as an opportunity to escape his problems. I believe we learn valuable lessons from any of these interpretations, but for this email I want to go with the interpretation of Rashbam. Jacob was running away from his brother. He had run once before and it had worked. But God will not let Jacob get away this time. “Jacob was left alone,” then the verse continues and says “…and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” This “man” kept Jacob in the same area the entire night, until Jacob was willing to face his fears. Through the ages, many Rabbis, Pastors, Scholars and Professors have attempted to uncover who this mysterious wrestling-partner was. Many theories have been given. Was Jacob just wrestling within himself? With the Sitra Achara (the evil side)? With his Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination)?
|I believe Rabbi Jonathan, olov hashalom, summed up all the many theories out there in his book Covenant & Conversation when he wrote, “This story of Jacob’s wrestling match with an unnamed adversary is deeply enigmatic. Everything about it is mysterious. It takes place at a liminal time between night and dawn, at an unspecified location, with no explanation. We do not even know who the adversary was. The text itself calls him “a man;” according to the prophet Hosea, it was an angel; for the sages, it was the guardian angel of Esau. Jacob himself had no doubt. It was God. He called the placed of the encounter Peni’el, ‘because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’” So who was it? Was it satan, the Angel of Esau? Or was this “angel-man” a manifestation of God? There are good reasons for both of these ideas. However, the most beautiful explanation I find from this interaction comes from Xus Casal who writes of this encounter. “… Once the angel’s mission was accomplished, the angel was seen as God’s manifestation…the morning was rising and the night leaving…As Samael (satan) was defeated, Metatron (Yeshua the Messiah) was manifested.” Meaning, the entire night Jacob wrestled with satan, the angel of Esau, however, when the dawn broke he (Jacob) found himself in the arms of the Messiah.
Jacob had struggled to overcome and had triumphed. The blessing that Jacob received at the end of his wrestling match was “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” The name Israel is composed of two Hebrew words. “Yashar—Upright” and “El—God” = “Upright with God.” Jacob had struggled with men = his evil inclination; the sinful, fleshly side of him, as well as having struggled with God, and he had succeeded. After an entire night of struggle, Jacob limped away from that place, with a newfound sense of peace. After Jacob’s meeting with Esau it is written in Genesis 33:18, “V’yavo Yaakov Shalem—And Jacob arrived completely intact.” It was at this point, after the entire Esau incident that Jacob realized, he was missing nothing; God had brought him through everything. After that night of struggle, Jacob had found himself in the arms of the Messiah, and as he had limped away from that stop, he knew God was with him. And how could he not limp? He knew he had been touched by heaven, and in that way, he could never walk the same again. In Hebrew it says, “a Man, v’yavek—wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” In Hebrew, “Avek” is a root word, which means, “to wrestle.” But this root word is connected to the Modern Hebrew word “Chabek” which literally means, “to hug.” The Messiah had come to love on Jacob, but Jacob had fought. Jacob had warded off the angel of Esau, not believing his lies, but Jacob had also fought the Messiah, not believing his truths. I believe we all face this same struggle in our own lives, to believe the truth and negate the lies. Draw near to Yeshua, the one who is willing to wrestle with us, and don’t let Him go until, as the Psalmist writes, “[You] receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of [your] salvation. [For] this is Jacob, the generation of those who seek [The Lord], Who seek [His] face. Selah”
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,