Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Man Wrestled with Him

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

This parsha contains "a message for generations, for everything that occurred to our patriarch with his brother, Esav, will always occur to us with the descendents of Esav." (Ramban) All of Jewish history is encapsulated in that long night: "Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn." (Bereisheet 32:25) This "man" (Esav's angel) is Yaakov's eternal opponent, as Chazal say, "It is an accepted tradition, it is known that Esav hates Yaakov."

What is the basis of this eternal hatred?

The Rambam writes in Iggeret Teiman:

Because the Creator designated us with his commandments and his laws, and our greater worth over others is clear ... all the heathens were jealous of us (hated us) greatly because of our religion ... Their desire to is battle against G-d and to fight with Him, but He is G-d, so who can fight Him?

Therefore, the nations of the world fight against the nation that represents G-d in the world, as Yeshaya says, "You are my witnesses – the word of Hashem – and I am G-d." (43:12) Chazal comment: "It you are My witnesses, I am G-d, but if you are not My witnesses, I am, as it were, not G-d."

The Rambam's assertion that the war of the nations against Israel is, in truth, a war against G-d, is explicit in numerous verses. For example, in the end of Parshat Ha'azinu, it says: "I shall return vengeance upon My enemies, and upon those who hate Me I shall bring retribution." (Devarim 32:41) The Ramban comments on this: "Out of their hatred of G-d they do all these bad things to us, and they are His enemies and His haters." Sefer Tehillim similarly begins: "Why do nations gather, and regimes talk in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the princes conspire secretly, aginst Hashem and against His anointed." What do they want? "Let us cut off their cords and let us cast off their ropes from ourselves." (Tehillim 2:1-3) The Divine ideal that the Jewish People represent in the world is something that burdens the nations, and they aspire to free themselves from the moral yoke that Israel places upon them. Hitler said to the German author Hermann Rauschning: "Providence destined me to be the great liberator of mankind ... I am liberating mankind from the moral bonds of Judaism."

This is not to say that every non-Jew is cognizant of this viewpoint, but subconciously they protect themselves from Judaism through this hatred. Rav Kook zt"l writes (Orot p. 49):

The idolatrous view recognized in Israel, in Judaism, its greatest enemy, the force that, in proportion to its spreading, it [the idolatrous viewpoint] will be constrained in the world, and a great, instinctive, hatred of Israel came forth from all the nations.

In greater detail, Rav Kook writes (Orot p. 157):

Until the time of the ultimate redemption we have bestowed upon the world only teachings of obligations; morals and justice which emanate from the Divine Truth. However, the world does not want to accept obligations, and, if it does accept, hatred remains in the heart towards the primary advocate for the knowledge of the obligation, which does not allow the barbaric spirit to expand to its full desire. However, when the time will come for the light of the world to be revealed, the world will recognize that we are bestowing upon the world the ways of life of true pleasure ... and pleasure and happines is something relevant to all, at least to desire, and the beneficing source of satisfaction and pleasure is honored and cherished. Therefore, "Ten men, of all the [different] languages of the nations, will take hold ... of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man." (Zechariah 8:23)

The end of the struggle is hidden in the completion of that night: "When he percieved that he could not overcome him ... He said, 'Let me go, for dawn has broken.'" (Bereisheet 32:26-27) The struggle is possible only during the night, while the darkness still covers the earth, but when the morning breaks the truth is revealed. The angel of Esav seeks to disengage and stop the struggle, but Yaakov is not prepared to do so. He demands Esav's admission, since without this – the struggle cannot conclude and it will renew in the future in various issues. Yaakov said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me'" – when you admit that not only is Israel not a reason for hatred, but rather a source of blessing.

Already in the trial of the akeidah Hashem said to Avraham, "I shall surely bless you ...and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy. All the nations of the earth shll bless themslves by your offspring." (Bereisheet 23:16-17) Avraham was blessed with two blessings. One is his strength and eternity, that this nation will never be overcome and that it will always inherit its enemies. The second is the spiritaul blessing that testifies as to its destiny – "All the families of the earth shll bless themslves by you." (28:14) All the nations will ultimately recognize the special quality and worth of Am Yisrael, and that it brings blessing to the world.

Indeed, Esav's angel accepted this – "He blessed him there." He conceded to him about the blessings and the birthright. This is a sign for the descendents that in the end of days all will come and say: (Yeshaya 2:2-3)

"Let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the G-d of Yaakov, and He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in His paths." For from Zion will the Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.

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