This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayishlach (5761)
This week the Torah tells us about the famous all-night battle between Yaakov and the angel.
We have met with materialized angels before in the Torah; for instance the angel that spoke to Hagar and those that visited Avraham and then destroyed Sodom. But here it is not so clear what is really going on.
First of all, No indication is given in the Torah why the fight; what are they fighting about?
Second. It is known that Angels have no free will and are only messengers of G-d. Why did G-d send this angel?
Finally, How can a human being fight an Angel? We saw, in the case of Sodom and Amora, that one angel can completely destroy several cities!! So how could Yaakov defeat one?
Also, this week’s Torah portion comes just before the Chabad ‘Holiday’ of Yud Tes Kislev and a week before Chanuka. Is there a connection?
I’d like to answer this with a story.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (The first Rebbe of Chabad who over 200 years ago on the nineteenth (‘Yud Tes’) of the Hebrew month Kislev, was miraculously released from Death Row in Czarist prison) once sent one of his Chassidim on an important mission to deliver a large sum of money to a distant location.
The Rebbe blessed him with a safe trip but mysteriously warned him not to enter any house that has no windows on the east side. Early the next morning the Chassid set off happily on his journey. The first few hours went smoothly although snow was falling heavily but after a few more hours, ominous storm clouds darkened the sky and created an impression of impending nightfall. The wind grew stronger and colder from minute to minute and was becoming unbearable. He tried to speed up the horses hoping to reach some sort of an inn but agonizing hours passed and still nothing.
He was numb and freezing, it was much colder than usual and the snow was falling so densely that he couldn’t really see where he was going. He prayed to G-d for some sort of miracle.
Suddenly through the white ocean of swirling snow he saw what looked like the outline of a house just off the road. With his last energy he forced the horses in the direction, and sure enough it was a house! It even had a Mezuza on the door! He thanked G-d for the good fortune as he jumped from his wagon onto the front porch and knocked on the door.
An elderly woman opened the door and let him in to the warm house. Come in you must be freezing,” she said. “Come have a cup of tea, sit here by the stove. In just a minute my sons will return, they will put your horse in the barn, please sit down.” Just as he sat and began thawing out he remembered that it was almost night and he hadn’t yet prayed Mincha (afternoon prayer). So he asked the woman which direction was Jerusalem (all prayers face Jerusalem) and prayed, thanking G-d for his good fortune.
As he finished, and was taking the three steps backward, he noticed that something was wrong; one wall had no windows … the east wall!
Without hesitation he put on his coat and walked to the door saying apologetically, “I’ll be right back” but the door was locked. He went to a window but it too was locked. “I forgot something in the wagon,” he said to the old woman “Could you please open the door?” Suddenly a key opened the door from the outside, and four healthy young men entered the house from the freezing storm. As soon as they saw their visitor they immediately grabbed him, emptied his pockets, tied him up, laid him on the ground in a corner, and sat down to eat while their mother examined the booty.
“Ho HO! She exclaimed. “Look what we have here!!” As she held up the pack of money she found in his wallet. “Looks like we caught a nice fish this time!!” One of the sons examined the money, went to the cupboard, took out a large bottle of vodka and put it on the table with a bang. “Brothers, lets celebrate!! G-d has been good to us! We have enough money here to be happy for a long, long time! But first, let’s take care of our guest!!” He pulled a large knife from somewhere under his coat while one of his brothers was pouring him a drink. He took a cup of vodka in his free hand, raised it high and said, “To long life, except for you!” as he looked at the bound Chassid.
One of the brothers, surprised by the joke, laughed so hard that the vodka came spraying out of his mouth on the others, and they all began to laugh, and then someone began a song and another toast, then another. Then the door opened again and it was their father. “Ah HAA!” He shouted as he looked at the money on the table and the bound victim on the floor,
“Good work boys! Excellent! We’ll have to kill him though … I’m glad you left him for me. You know what? In the morning I’ll take care of him. Now let’s drink to our good fortune!!” And before long they were all drunk as Lot and forgot completely about our unfortunate hero.
Late that night, when they were all sleeping soundly, the father woke, looked around to make sure that no one else was awake, tiptoed over to our Chassid, motioned him to be silent, cut his ropes and motioned for him to follow. Quietly he tiptoed to the door opened it and whispered in the Chassid’s ear as he gave him his coat, “Here is most of the money back” he pushed a wad of the stolen money into the Chassid’s coat pocket. “And here, tell your Rebbe to pray for me” he pressed a gold coin in the Chassid’s hand.
“See, I’m giving charity! Tell him to pray for me. Now go! Get out of here! Go back as fast as you can … run for your life” he whispered aloud as the Chassid was leaving the house. The dawn was beginning to light the horizon, the storm had stopped, and our grateful hero was on the road back home.
When he finally arrived and entered the Rebbe’s room, the Rebbe looked up at him and said, “I know what happened, you don’t have to tell me. You should know that the entire night I had to stay awake because of you.”
The Chassid then produced the golden coin and told of the father’s request. The Rebbe took the coin and wedged it in a crack in the wooden wall next to his desk and said no more.
Fifteen years passed and the Chassid, who was now married with a family, became one of the assistants of the Rebbe. One day he answered the door to a beggar and told him to wait. When he entered the Rebbe’s room and informed him that there was a beggar at the door the Rebbe pulled the gold coin from the crack where it had been for the last fifteen years and told the Chassid that this man was the ‘father’ that had and miraculously released him years ago.
It seems that when his wife and sons awoke and realized what he had done they beat him and drove him from the house just some hours before the police made a surprise raid and took the mother and boys off to jail.
The father, who had been a murderer and thief all his life, began a life of wandering and repentance and now the Rebbe, in addition to saving him and causing him to repent, was repaying him for the favor of saving his Chassid.
This explains the questions we asked earlier:
Yaakov was not an ordinary person; he was the embodiment of all the Jewish souls that would ever be created. That is why his name was changed to Yisroel, meaning: ‘Yisr’- direct ‘el’- to G-d. And why the Jews are called ‘Bnai-Yisroel’.
We can see this later in our parsha (33:14) when Aisov suggests that they travel together, Yaakov tells him to go ahead and he will catch up with him in a place called ‘Seir’. Rashi explains that Yaakov meant that they would meet thousands of years later with Moshiach!
But Yaakov only lived 147 years…. How could he make such a promise?
But Yaakov knew that he was not just an individual but an eternal ‘General Soul’ containing all the Jewish people for all generations. As the Talmud (Taanit 5a) says “Yaakov did not die.” (see Rashi on Gen. 49:33)
Similarly his battle was not a personal one but rather an eternal battle between holiness and nature with the goal of revealing the Creator in every aspect of creation with the arrival of Moshiach.
[These are also the themes of Chanuka when the Greeks wanted the Jews to be normal and the Jews wanted to illuminate the world with Holiness, and of Yud Tes Kislev when the Rebbe wanted to illuminate the world with the preparation for Moshiach and his opponents wanted ‘normal’ Judaism).]
Therefore he was able not only wrestle and defeat the angel but also force the angel to bless him; because an angel, no matter how powerful, is only part of creation while Yaakov drew energy directly from his true source; The Creator. And the goal of the Creator is that the entire world will ‘see’ and ‘feel’ that there is nothing but G-d. (see Rashi on Deut.6:4)
Just as the Rebbe in our story stayed up all night fighting spiritual battles to save both his Chassid and the criminal, (and the Tzadikim of all generations have been fighting the 2000 year-long ‘night’ battle of exile) so Yaakov fought all night for the welfare of all Bait Yisroel.
But it all depends on us. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can transform the world.
And just as the Rebbe finally saw the ultimate fruit of his toil when the old man took back his golden coin, so will Yaakov Avinu rejoice when, as we say in Alenu three times a day, all the evil people will turn to HaShem. In the arrival of....
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