July 19, 2024
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Parashat Vayishlach begins as Yaakov sends messengers ahead, apparently to assess to what extent Eisav is still a danger. However, to Yaakov’s surprise, his messengers come back with a report that he most probably did not expect: Eisav, with 400 men, was on his way to meet Yaakov!

Expecting that Eisav was on his way to kill his entire family, he quickly divides his camp in two (to save at least half of them), then turns to God in prayer. Yaakov’s prayer reflects this predicament. On the one hand, God told him to return and promised to protect him. Yet on the other hand, God never told him to initiate an encounter with Eisav. Did Yaakov think he had made a mistake? Maybe he was supposed to return to Cana’an and avoid Eisav entirely?

Yaakov now faces a predicament. After all, what does God want him to do? After he prays, that evening Yaakov prepares an elaborate “peace offering” for his brother. Hence, it appears that Yaakov has chosen the path of “appeasement,” hoping that his brother will be so impressed that he may change his mind.

That evening, as Yaakov crosses the Yabok with his family, God sends a mal’ach (angel) who struggles with Yaakov until the morning. It would only be logical to assume that there is a divine reason for this struggle.

If we follow Rashbam’s approach (that Yaakov is running away), then God’s message seems to be quite clear. By keeping Yaakov engaged in battle all night long, God is not allowing Yaakov to run, thereby telling him that he shouldn’t (or doesn’t need to) run away. In fact, Rashbam claims that Yaakov’s injury is a punishment for his running away!

This also explains Yaakov’s request for a blessing. The angel blesses Yaakov by “changing his name” from Yaakov to Yisrael. Considering that the name Yaakov implies some sort of “trickery,” while the name Yisrael implies the ability to “stand up and fight”; then this “blessing” is simply God’s answer to Yaakov—don’t run away, rather encounter your brother!

What should we learn from this story? One could suggest that the Bible’s ambiguity is intentional, as there are times when we must take action, even when we are in doubt in regard to the true intentions of our enemies. While at other times, it may be better to remain passive.

Yaakov leaves this encounter not only limping but also “contemplating” and “wondering.” But he continues on his journey, on his way to Bet-El, ready to face any future encounter with prayer, wisdom, action, faith, and resolve.

So too, in the history of the Jewish people—there are times that we must stand up and fight, and there are times that we attempt appeasement. There are also times when we struggle, and remain limping. Yet we continue to pray, study, contemplate and persevere with unyielding resolve to achieve our goals.

The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.


Rabbi Menachem Leibtag is an internationally acclaimed Tanach scholar and online Jewish education pioneer. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

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