Rabbi Chanan Morisson
Life Lessons from the Torah Reading
The turmoil of life can sometimes make us feel very alone. We at times are left in solitude with our fears, our pains and our own insecurity. We sense that this loneliness is a curse while in fact it may actually be a blessing.
Leaving Haran with all its lies and deceit could not truly prepare Yaacov ( Jacob) for his next challenge. He now had to prepare to confront the man he fled from, the man who was determined to kill him
” And he arose during that night, and he took his two wives and his two maidservants and his eleven children, and he crossed the ford of the Yabbok. And he took them and brought them across the stream, and he took across what was his. And Yaacov( Jacob) was left alone (Vayivater Yaacov Levado), and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.( Genesis 32:23-25)
The Torah seems to highlight an important fact “And Yaacov was left alone”.
Yet the next verse seems to belie that statement,” and a man ( EESH)wrestled with him until the break of dawn.”
We learn subsequently that this was not just any man, but rather a spiritual being, the angel of death or perhaps the angel of the nation of Esav ( Esau ).
The Bnei Yissaschar understands from this encounter that at critical moments in our individual or corporate spiritual paths we are destined to confront a point of complete aloneness. In such times we are thrust into situations wherein we are left disconnected from our environment, our past, our destiny. We are simply left with ourselves equipped only with our delicate balance of strengths and weaknesses. It is in that struggle that we find the empowerment to move forward.
Abraham was called a Hebrew Ivri because when the whole world was on one side of the river, he had the courage to cross over ( La-Avor) and stand alone on the other side. Balaam against his will was blessing the people and not cursing them when he declared that this people will be a “A nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9).
When the people of Israel will lose their spiritual way, we read how the prophet Hoshea describes G-d telling them
”Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly unto her ( Hoshea 2:16).
It is in that wilderness and solitude that “the tender call of Hashem” can be heard .It is in their aloneness that they will find the strength to continue on their journey into destiny.
Yaacov came into this encounter filled with much concerns, insecurity and fears. He expresses these in his prayer to Hashem ;
“I am unworthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant,”( ibid 32:11)
On a deeper level one almost senses that the painful words of his father, Isaac, seared a deep wound in Yaacov’s heart. Those were the words Isaac said when giving Yaacov the blessings that ostensibly were for Esav;
“The voice is the voice of Yaacov, but the hands are the hands of Esav.'”(Genesis 27:22).
Yaacov was aware that what he did regarding the blessings was clearly within the desire of G-d. Yet Yaacov may have been deeply troubled by the gnawing question of how much of Esav’s character had seeped into his soul. Had “the hands of Esav” overtaken the spiritual “voice of Yaacov”.
It is then that he is thrust into this place of aloneness .It is only in that solitude that he would have the opportunity to struggle with those fears to determine if indeed he was still on the path that G-d had decreed for him.
We all must tackle the insecurities and failures in our lives in order to become that that we need to become. Yaacov needed that lonely inner battle in order to become an Israel.
“And he (the angel) said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Yaacov) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.
So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Yaacov.”
And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Yaacov, but Israel, because you have strived with [an angel of] G-d and with men, and you have prevailed.”( Genesis 32:27-29)
Yet we find that both names continue to play out in his life.At times the son of Isaac is called Yaacov and at times he is called Israel. Our sages in Masechet Berachot (13a), distinguish between the change in the name of “Avram” to “Avraham” and the change of “Yaacov” to “Israel” .The sages point out that once Avraham received his new name it became forbidden to call him by the name “Avram”. Regarding Yaacov we earn that the verse “No longer will you be called Yaacov ( Yaacov) , but rather Israel; (ibid 32:29 ) does not mean that the name Yaacov shall be obliterated, but that Israel shall be the principal name and Yaacov a secondary one.
Rabenu Bachaya explains that Yaacov is a name indicating physicality connected to the step by step growth in the physical reality towards purpose and promise., The name Israel is the name that is related more to the spiritual fulfilment and realization of that growth. Rashi similarly explains that the name Yaacov indicates “the existence in exile”, while the name Israel indicates the “courage and victory related to destiny” .
How does Yaacov achieve that change? How are we to understand and glean instruction from that change?
The first lesson to be learned is that Yaacov did all that he needed to do in the physical world and did not simply wait for miraculous rescue.
Rashi explains on the words “the remaining camp will escape” the following : “He (Yaacov) prepared himself for three things: for a gift, for war, and for prayer. For a gift, [as Scripture says] (verse 22): “So the gift passed on before him.” For prayer, [as Scripture says] (verse 10): “G-d of my father Abraham…” For war, [as Scripture says]: “the remaining camp will escape.”
Yet the angel notes the most powerful attribute that empowered Yaacov.
“And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Yaacov, but Israel, because you have strived with G-d ( actually His angel) and with men, and you have prevailed.”( ibid:29)
Many translate Ki Sarita Eem Elokim as ” you have strived with G-d ” that is to say you have struggled against and won. Perhaps the more correct translation would be Ki Sarita Eem Elokim ; for you have struggled alongside ( Eeem-with) G-d.
That is the way to enter into that lonely place of combat with the realization you “never were or never will be alone”. The dream of the Ladder when Yaacov left the land taught Him that that ever-present ladder will be with him in all places and in all situations. Ascending that ladder towards Holiness will always be an option.Yet this inner struggle when he was “left alone” taught him that in fact he is never alone.That is the lesson for all those who walk in the light of Hashem, we are never alone!
The Jewish people as a whole are then left with two choices. They can view the declaration said about this people by Bilaam in the book of Numbers “A nation that will dwell in solitude” (.” (Numbers 23:9).as a curse and will do all that they can to escape their unique role.
On the other hand they can understand it as an opportunity to in fact hear that “the tender call of Hashem” ( Hoshea 2:16).
When that happens then we will see the fulfillment of the verse “The haughty eyes of man will be humbled, and the height of men shall be bowed down, and Hashem alone shall be exalted on that day (nisgav Hashem livado). ( Isaiah 2:11)
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved