This week’s parsha talks about the true meaning behind Jacob wrestling with his brother Esau’s guardian angel.
By Rabbi Bentzion Geisinsky
Did you know that the first Torah scholar mentioned in the Torah was also the first wrestler recorded in history?
Yes, it’s true. Our patriarch Jacob, whom the verse (Genesis 25, 27) describes as “an innocent man, dwelling in tents” [of Torah study, Rashi] is the very same fellow who, in this week’s portion, wrestles with a man, who the Midrash tells us is the guardian angel of his twin brother, Esau.
Because with us Jews nothing is simple or can be understood only in the literal sense, their fight was a manifestation of a deeper quarrel between holiness and the forces of unholiness. After the showdown of the decade with the pomp and drama to the tune of 400 armed soldiers and elaborate gift- giving ceremonies and after which Jacob thought he was through with worrying about Esau, here comes his angel to attempt one final blow.
The result? Let’s look at the word used in our parshah for “wrestling”: The Hebrew word here is avak. The more common understanding of the word avak is dust. The Talmud (Chulin 91a) tells us the fight was so intense, that the dust around them rose up until it reached God’s throne of glory.
What does that mean?
First, let’s introduce a third meaning for the word avak, a torch (avukah, a torch made up of many wicks braided together.) Similarly, when two people wrestle with each other, it is as if they are hugging each other and interlocked with one another, just like a torch.
Jacob didn’t fight with the angel from a distance by aiming an arrow at him. He got close. That tells us that Jacob wanted to surround Esau’s angel with his holiness. When Jacob emerges victorious, he doesn’t just eliminate the unholy angel. He’s able to elevate even the lowliest parts of that angel, as the Talmud says that “the dust under his feet, was elevated to the throne of glory.”
The lesson for us, Jacob’s descendants, is simple. When we deal with the dark side of materialism, we ought to grab the opportunity to wrestle with it, not just to beat it. When we get a chance to take what the world offers and use it the way Jacob would want us to use it, we can elevate even an Esau to God.
May we merit to reveal the light hidden within the darkness of the world, just as Jacob did. As the verse concludes: Jacob wrestled “until the rising of the morning star.” Our sages explain that this will be fully realized at the time of ultimate brightness, in the era of our redemption, may it come speedily in our time.
Rabbi Bentzion Geisinsky lives in Bloomfield Hills, where he co-directs Chabad of Bingham Farms with his wife, Moussia.