Parshat Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4-36:43
The Torah teaches us that Yaakov prepared on three fronts, in the face of the looming confrontation with Eisav. He prepared a gift, to hopefully soften Eisav. This would avoid the confrontation entirely. He also prepared by praying that Hashem should protect him. If all else failed, he also prepared for war. In a sense, the prayer was also for success in war, if it came to that. Just in case, he also divided his camp in two. If one division was defeated, the other could escape.
Traditionally, we think of our own adversarial struggles in the same way. We plan for them on three fronts. Our struggles are not necessarily on the same scale as the one facing Yaakov. But a struggle is a struggle, and an adversary is always waiting. Thus, even in our smaller scale confrontations, wherein we feel threatened externally or internally as servants of Hashem, we think of these methods of preparedness.
However, Yaakov had other struggles. In the parsha we read last week, he struggles with the deceit of his uncle and father-in-law Lavan. In that conflict, he made deals. He had to outsmart the crooked and cheating Lavan many times. Eventually, he moved out without warning. Lavan chased him, and in a final showdown, they made one last treaty. That is also a method to deal with an adversary. It is a different adversary, but one that must be faced. It requires its own methods.
In this parsha, Yaakov is ambushed by the “man”, who turns out to be an angel, also known as the archangel of Eisav. In this struggle, he valiantly holds on and does not let go. It seems that he could have stopped the fight by just letting the enemy go. Apparently, in this type of struggle, the goal is to fight, and continue to fight, rather than to rest after an apparent victory. There is to be no peace treaty here. Presumably, the earlier prayer was for success in this type of fight as well.
Later in the parsha, Yaakov faces a different type of adversary. Shechem kidnaps and rapes Dinah. He then comes to negotiate a wedding arrangement. Yaakov has no intention of making such an arrangement. Nor do his sons. All he is really interested in is getting Dinah back. The only way out of this will be a commandotype raid (should we say Entebbe!). He leaves it to his sons to work on that. By the way, in parshas Vayechi Yaakov informs his children that he was also involved in this war, using his bow and sword, otherwise known as his prayers.
So we see that Yaakov teaches us that there are many types of struggles, all of which require different methods to deal with them. Our own struggles are as varied as those of Yaakov, on our own smaller scale. There will be the direct confrontation. Our beliefs will be challenged head on by nonbelievers. Our values will be challenged head on by other values. Our ritual observances will be challenged by mockers and scoffers. We might need to send gifts, to bribe people to leave us alone. We might need to bribe our own temptations! We have certainly experienced rebuilding from survivors who were salvaged or escaped. There might be internal struggles wherein we feel that we are entangled already, like the struggle with the angel. There might be situations wherein we need to negotiate deals to make sure we are not short-changed, and where we do not get forced to give up something in compromise. There will be situations wherein we feel that we have already been trapped and our dignity has been violated. This might also occur internally. We will need to make a surreptitious commando raid to rescue our dignity and free ourselves from these forces that wish to bribe us and to keep us captive.
Poor Yaakov! A lifetime of struggles! But this is the world of struggles between good and evil. We live the same lives as our ancestor Yaakov lived. Our job is to look out for those struggles and challenges and to prepare for them. If and when they surface, we will know what to do. We do not lie down and give in.
No, not poor Yaakov. Triumphant Yaakov. When he succeeded in his struggles, he had his name changed to Yisrael, for he persevered against angels and men and he prevailed. This is the name we carry, Israel. The ones who persevere against angels and men, and prevail. Every time we think of the name of our nation, it should stir within us that fighting spirit for our values, pride and dignity, we will surely overcome. So next time you say or hear Israel, remember what it represents, what it really means!
Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is provided by the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.