Vayishlach 2

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


A Spiritual Battle 

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


“Yakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him (Yakov), he struck the socket of his hip; so Yakov’s hip socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him...Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the displaced hip socket to this day, because he struck Yakov’s hip socket on the displaced sinew” (Gen. 32 V.25-26, 33).

There are many questions to be asked from this incident. Who wrestled with Yakov? What did he want from him? Why did he injure him, and why do we not eat of that sinew that was injured on Yakov (the sciatic vein) until this very day?

The Midrash states that Yakov’s wrestling partner was actually the ministering angel of Esav. Each nation has an angel which represents it before G-d. Esav, who represented the nation of Rome — which is the beginning of Western civilization — had an angel. This angel wanted to wrestle Yakov. Obviously a nation’s angel stands for the interest of the nation that it is representing. Rav Dessler writes that the angel which represented Esav was the evil inclination itself. As we mentioned two weeks ago in Parshas Toldos, Yakov and Esav stand for the two diametrically opposite ideas of good and evil. How was Esav’s evil manifest? In his mocking of all things good. We see this in the answer that the angel of Esav gave to Yakov when asked his name: “Why do you ask me for my name?” The simple meaning of the answer is, why do you care what my name is? But it could also be read, my name is, “why is this?” To anything that is worthwhile or serious, the response must be to mock, and to scorn.

The “fight” between Yakov and the angel of Esav was not a physical one. It was a spiritual battle for the souls of future generations. Will we look at our birthright as an honor and as an obligation to improve the world, as Yakov did, or will we look at it as a joke, at something to make fun of, as Esav did. This was truly a battle for the ages.

And when the angel of Esav saw that Yakov was going to be triumphant, he found a spiritual weakness in him. The Talmud says this weakness was lack of support for Torah study, in that the Jewish people would not take the study of Torah seriously enough. It was this weakness which was able to prevent the clear victory of Yakov.

The Chinuch, a book written in the 15th century which explains the meaning of the commandments, gives a moving explanation as to why we do not eat this vein until today. He writes that when we do not eat this vein, it is to remind us that in the course of our exile we will undergo much pain and suffering. But we must always remember that as dark as it may seem, just as Yakov was healed by the first rays of the sun, so will all of Israel be redeemed at the dawn of the Messiah, after our long night of exile.

It is incumbent upon us to remember what the weakness the angel of Esav — the evil inclination — found in Yakov, and how we can fight and overcome this weakness, and bring the Messiah.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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