Torah Fax

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - 11 Kislev, 5767 

Torah Reading: VaYishlach (Genesis 32:4 - 36:43) 
Candle Lighting: 4:14 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:16 PM

The Un-Program

 

In this week's parsha of VaYishlach, the Torah relates how Jacob was attacked by a mysterious individual, who is identified by our sages as Esau's guardian angel. In the ensuing struggle, Jacob does not allow the angel to leave until he offers him his blessing. The angel proceeds to rename Jacob as Israel, at which point Jacob asks him for his name. The angel replies: "why do you ask for my name?

 

Two questions present themselves immediately:

 

First, why did Jacob want to know the name of angel? What benefit would accrue to Jacob if he knew the name of the angel? Was Jacob planning to give the angel another name?

 

Second, why couldn't the angel divulge his name? Why was the angel so secretive?

 

Rashi addresses the second question and explains that an angel does not have one constant name. Its name changes depending on the particular mission it is sent to fulfill.

 

Rabbenu Bachaye (a thirteenth century Bible commentator) provides two other explanations for the angel's reluctance to reveal his name: By giving his name, it would have suggested that he deserved the credit for his actions—in this case, the blessing he gave Jacob. In truth, an angel is no more than a servant serving and representing his Master. The angel wanted to impress upon Jacob that the blessings he gave him and the change of name from Jacob to Israel was at G‑d's behest.

 

Another explanation cited by Rabbenu Bachaye is that the angel who lost the "wrestling match" to Jacob did not want to have his name associated with its defeat.

 

However, none of these explanations explain why Jacob wanted to know the name of the angel in the first place. 

 

The answer lies in the circumstances of his encounter with the angel. Jacob was on his way to encounter his brother Esau when he returned to retrieve some small jugs. When he was alone, Jacob was attacked by an angel and injured by him. Jacob certainly understood that this fight was a portent of the struggle in the future of his descendents, the Jewish nation, with the Esau's of the world. As our Sages point out, his injury was a sign that in the future the Jewish people will go through much suffering and travail. But in the end they will be healed and emerge victorious over their enemies who seek to destroy them.

 

When Jacob saw how formidable an opponent the angel was, he wanted to know what his strength was. Jacob wanted to know the "program" that animated the angel. Once he understood the angel's "software" he could always formulate a response to the threats in the future by anticipating the nature of the assault.

 

Now we can better understand the angel's response. The angel revealed to him that there is no one program. The obstacles posed by the Esau's of the world change from one situation to the next. Sometimes the threat to our existence comes from the right. And sometimes it comes from the left. Sometimes it comes from pagans; sometimes from Christianity and currently it comes primarily from Islam. Sometimes it comes from secularists and sometimes it comes from religious fanatics. Frequently the assault is directed against our bodies as in the story of Purim and sometimes the attack is geared to undermine our soul as in the upcoming holiday of Chanukah.

 

The angel was giving Jacob sound advice: don't prepare for any individual form of attack; be prepared for all of the forms, for it can come from any and every direction. Instead of formulating a strategy for one or several modes of attack, formulate a strategy that can address any and all possible threats.

 

What was the strategy to which the angel was alluding?

 

When a Jew views himself or herself merely as a "Jacob," which means "heel," he or she is vulnerable. A heel is one who follows others and has no self-confidence and respect. They can easily be victimized and harmed.

 

“From now on,” the angel told Jacob, “your name is Israel , which means to be a master of your own destiny. Your children are destined to be leaders and not followers.” And while the name Jacob was not erased from the Torah and remained his name, it is because there are times when we must be prepared to follow the lead of others who take us in the right direction. We should never let our self-respect turn into arrogance to the extent that we can never accept advice and guidance from others. But we must realize that each and every one of us is destined to be a leader; destined to illuminate and inspire, not to dominate and control. The Israel dynamic must be tempered by the Jacob attitude.

 

Instead of forming committees and spending millions of dollars on research how to deal with one specific threat or problem, we should focus on instilling in our children—and ourselves—the notion that we are the Children of Israel. When we respect ourselves and our G‑d given talents and mission, we do not have to necessarily know and understand the name of the enemy and its ideology to defeat him.

 

As we stand now ready enter into the age of Redemption, it is even more crucial not to waste time and energy on identifying the dynamics of anti-Semitism, trying to understand why some might hate us or fight us. It certainly is counterproductive to blame ourselves for their animosity towards us. The most potent force we have to win the war and win adherents to our cause is to recognize who we are as a people and as individuals and live our lives accordingly. (Needless to say, this does not mean we should not defend ourselves against any attack; but our mindset must be forward looking, upbeat, inspirational and proud.)

 

Equipped with the humility of Jacob and the pride and determination of Israel, all of our enemies will disappear. 

 

 

Moshiach Matters     

The Talmud tells us (Bava Batra 10a): “Great is the Mitzvah of charity for it hastens the redemption.” One should give charity daily and, on the eve of all Sabbaths and festivals, donate the sum that would normally be given on the following day. In the spirit of redemption, every home should have a charity box, and -preferably - one’s car as well. (The Rebbe)

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