Yaakov was Left Alone
הרב אריה שטרן
In the dark of night Yaakov was left alone; no one was with him. That moment was the opportunity for the man who came to wrestle with him. They wrestled until dawn, and when the sun shone Yaakov was left limping -- but victorious. Ultimately, though, Yaakov reaches Shechem complete in all respects: in complete health, with his wealth intact, and complete in his Torah. This episode serves as a microcosm of Am Yisrael's history throughout the generations. "The acts of the patriarchs are a sign for the children."
We begin with a situation in which the entire world is on one side and Avraham Avinu is on the other. This is the starting point for the Divine prophecy in Bilaam's mouth that we are "A nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations." (Bamidbar 23:9) When we go out in exile, they will lament about us, "Alas -- she sits in solitude." (Eichah 1:1) When we will merit the complete redemption all will say, "Hashem alone will be exalted on that day" (Yeshaya 2:11), and along with him, his nation and flock will sit alone in the greatest height and honor.
Yaakov knew well the secret of Am Yisrael's solitude. He knew that in this solitude is hidden a great blessing. This nation, which was formed in order to tell the praises of G-d in the world, must detach itself from the way of life of the other nations, and adopt for itself a purer, loftier way of life. Only through guarding our uniqueness are we able to fully develop all the Divine abilities that are within us. Unnecessary closeness with the nations that are around us is liable to cause a blurring of our special identity and a loss entirely of our distinction.
Therefore, when Yaakov prepared for his historic meeting with Esav, he prepared himself for three things, among them prayer. What did he pray at that moment? "Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav." (Bereishit 32:12) What does the repetition -- "my brother," "Esav" -- allude to? He has no brother other than Esav, so why did he have to repeat, "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav?" Furthermore, why did he repeat the phrase, "from the hand of?" He could have said, "Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, Esav!"
In the writings of the Beit Halevi we learn that Yaakov understood at that moment that two options stood then before Esav, after all those decades of detachment and hatred. It was possible that Esav was coming in order to attack him and kill him, as a direct continuation of that protracted hatred. However, it was also possible that Esav already changed his attitude, and now he was coming for conciliation and a brotherly relationship of friendship.
Yaakov feared and was concerned about both possibilities. Not only Esav's hatred frightened him, but also his love and affection. The excessive closeness with Esav is also liable to harm his "complete" house, and who knows? Perhaps spiritual damage will be caused to one of his children or family members when they see Esav's decadent way of life. Yaakov knew better than anyone else how difficult and complicated the encounter with the corrupt world is, as Yaakov encountered it in Lavan's house. Although he himself was saved from it, as he said, "I lived with the wicked Lavan -- yet kept the 613 mitzvot" (Rashi, Bereishit 32:4), who can guarantee that all his family will stand up as he did?
This double concern is highlighted in the verses that describe Yaakov's emotions at those moments: "Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him." (32:8) This can be interpreted as a double concern. "Yaakov became very frightened" -- of Esav's hatred and vengeance; "and it distressed him" -- if Esav will instead seek his closeness and love. From here flows his prayer, which is comprised of two parts. He asks of G-d, "Rescue me from the hand of my brother" -- if he wants to act towards me as a brother and friend. And, "Rescue me from Esav" -- if he wants to act towards me wickedly and with hatred. Yaakov's prayer was accepted, and Esav and his large band were not able to do anything to him. However, when Esav saw that he could not prevail with his might, he changed his tactic and suggested to Yaakov an offer of affection and friendship: "Travel on and let us go -- I will proceed alongside you." (Bereishit 33:12) Chazal explain that he suggested forming a partnership in the two worlds, this world and the world to come.
Yaakov understood well the great danger inherent in this offer. It is possible that if they were to live together, he would succeed in influencing Esav somewhat and improving his ways a little. If, indeed, this would happen, Esav would merit a small share in the world to come. However, it was just as likely that Esav would succeed in negatively influencing Yaakov and his family by showing them some o f the pleasures of this world. If, G-d forbid, this would occur -- that was exactly the tragedy that Yaakov feared. Yaakov's answer did not delay in coming, and it is clear and unequivocal: "Let my lord go ahead of his servant; I will make my slow pace ...until I come to my lord at Seir." (33:14) Until the coming of the Messiah -- when the great and true encounter between Israel and the other nations will take place -- until then we need to travel alone, and to proceed at our own pace in the fulfillment of the Divine goals that are incumbent upon us.
The struggle that occurred that night is explained by Rashi (32: 25) in two ways: "vaye'avek" is either from the word "dust," that the raised dust with their feet through their motions. Or, it is from the word "to be bound," since it is common for two who are wrestling to grasp one another in their arms. These two interpretations hint to the two ways through which the nations attempt to undermine Israel. The first way is through persecution and wars, which are intended to weaken and destroy the strength and physical existence of Israel. The second way is that of closeness and love, which attempt to weaken and blur the spiritual strength of Israel.
In every generation enemies rise against us to destroy us. That night instills within us the belief that even if we limp -- we will not fall. We will always continue to stride forward. The prohibition of the gid hanashe, which was established for generations, strengthens us and infuses within us a constant hope that the sun will soon shine for us. We will come complete in all aspects of our life to the Temple, which will be established on the mountaintops, and all the nations will stream to it, as Yeshaya prophesized. "For from Zion will go forth the Torah." (Yeshaya 2:3)
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