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December 28, 1990 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-12-28

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Who or what was the stranger with
whom Jacob wrestled (Genesis 25-30)?
What is the significance of this event?

Genesis recounts how Jacob,
with the assistance of his
mother, steals the blessing of
the firstborn that should
have gone to his brother,
Esau. With this act comes
the complete breach between
the two men; Esau goes one
way, Jacob becomes the
leader of the Jewish people
While journeying in the
wilderness, Jacob learns his
brother has amassed a great
army and is approaching.
Hoping to appease Esau,
Jacob prepares a gift of
goats and ewes and bulls.
He sends his wives and
children to safety before
darkness descends and is
left alone
The Torah then states,
`And there wrestled a man
with him until the breaking
of the day. And when he
saw that he prevailed not
against him, he touched the
hollow of his thigh; and the
hollow of Jacob's thigh was
strained, as he wrestled
with him. And he said:
`Let me go, for the day
breaketh.' And he said: 'I
will not let thee go, except
thou bless me' And he said
unto him: 'What is thy
name?' and he said: 'Jacob.'
And he said: Thy name
shall be called no more
Jacob, but Israel; for thou_
has striven with God and
with men, and host
prevailed.' And Jacob asked
him, and said, 'Tell me, I

pray thee, thy name' And
he said: `Wherefore is it that
thou does ask after my
name?' And he blessed him


abbi Alon Tolwin of
Aleynu/Aish Halbrah
approaches this ques-
tion like a detective, seeking
a motive and means for this
Torah mystery.
One commentary sug-
gests the incident is a
dream, Rabbi Tolwin says.
But the generally accepted
view is it was an actual
happening that had impor-
tant consequences for the
Jewish people.
But first: a review of the
Esau was the favorite of
his father, Isaac, and Jacob
was the beloved of his
mother, Rebecca. Isaac
knew it was his respon-
sibility to pass on the mes-
sage of God.
But Isaac had no
guidance as to which of his
sons would carry on the
legacy, and so hoped both
his boys might share this
responsibility. Jacob was
kind and gentle, Esau was
strong and skillfull. Isaac
hoped their traits would
complement each other.
Rebecca had no such no-
tions, Rabbi Tolwin says.
"She understood that no al-
liance could occur, that one
way or another Esau would

overtake Jacob, and she
firmly. believed he should
not have a bracha (bless-
ing) to do it."
Consequently, Rebecca
tricked Isaac into giving
the blessing not to his first
born, Esau, but to Jacob.
With that blessing, Jacob
would become the one to
carry on the message of one
God, the legacy of his
grandfather, Avraham.
His brother, however,
became an idol worshiper,
the Talmud recounts.
The blessing resulted in
both a tense personal ani-
mosity between the two
brothers and a battle of
Just as Jacob was enter-
ing the land of Israel, Esau
and his thousands of troops
neared. The timing of this
action was anything but
random, Rabbi Tolwin
says. Esau was determined
to confront his brother be-
cause "he wanted to pre-
vent Jacob from estab-
lishing his presence in the
land" —the land which was
Isaac's legacy and which
would have further
strengthened the Jewish
It is just as Esau is near-
ing that Jacob wrestles
with the stranger. Though
translated as "a man," the
figure with whom he
wrestles is in fact an angel,
and an image of himself,
Rabbi Tolwin says.

Jacob was at a critical
juncture in his life when he
receives this curious visit.
He is wondering why he is
fighting with Esau and
why he stole his brother's
blessing. He is concerned
about the struggles ahead
in the land of Israel. The
meeting with the angel
forces him to confront the
question: "Am I ready to
subject my people to what
Avraham subjected his
people to?"

Jacob fights with his own
fears as he prepares to take
on this role. And when he
is done, he receives the
message from God: "From
now on, your name will be
Israel. You have striven
with God and with men
and have prevailed."

Isaac blessing Jacob.



Jacob has made the
difficult - decision to be
responsible and devoted to
God and lead the people in
His ways.

Why wasn't Moses allowed to
enter the Promised Land?

Moses had dedicated his
life to God and the Jewish
people His one dream was
to be able to enter the Land
of Israel, to which he had
been leading his people for
more than 40 years. Yet just
before the Jews reached
their destiny, Moses died.


ike a diamond that
shines blue from one
side, yellow from
another and red from a third
angle, any one incident in the
Torah is multifaceted, accor-
ding to Rabbi Avraham
Jacobovitz of Machon
L'Torah. He notes that sages
say every incident in the
Torah has at least 70 dif-
ferent interpretations.
So, too, numerous ex-
planations exist as to why
Moses was not allowed into
the Promised Land. One of
these infers that Moses of-
fended God and was punish-
ed so harshly because of his
special relationship with
In Numbers 20:4-5, the
Jews complain of thirst as
they wander in the desert.
Hearing their appeal, God
tells Moses to speak to a
certain stone and promised
water would pour forth.
By this time Moses was
fed up with the Jews' cons-
tant grumbling over condi-
tions on their desert
journey. He had lambasted
the people, "You are too
stubborn!" and admo-
nished them to do God's
will. A frustrated Moses
did not speak to the stone;
instead, he struck it.
Rashi states that Moses
tried speaking at first to
one stone, but it was not
the one to which God had
directed him. When the
stone did not emit water,
Rashi says Moses lost his
temper. He hit another
stone, which happened to
be the right one.
God then told Moses:
"Because you believed not
in Me, to sanctify Me in the
eyes of the children of
Israel, therefore you shall
not bring this assembly

into the land which I have
given them."
The whole incident had
been a test, and Moses had
failed, Rabbi Jacobovitz
For others to have failed
such a challenge might not
have been so ominous, but
Moses was an extraordin-
ary case. Moses was "the
prophet of prophets," the
man whose relationship
with God was on the
highest level, Rabbi
Jacobovitz says. When
Moses lost his temper, he
failed in his mission of
sanctifying God's name;
this merited a unique
Rabbi Jacobovitz cites
this example: suppose the
police stopped President
George Bush one evening
while he was driving down
the highway. Then imag-
ine they gave him a
breathalizer test and
discovered he was drunk.
Would the kind of commo-
tion this would stir, and
the effects it would have,
be in any way comparable
to what would happen if
Joe Average were caught
driving drunk?
Of course not, Rabbi
Jacobovitz says. "That's
because the greater the
person, the more his sin is
The rabbi also cited a
mystical reason for God's
decision to deny Moses en-
try to the Promised Land.
The Talmud, he says, sug-
gests that Moses will be
needed for a more impor-
tant mission at a later
The Talmud states that
Moses' great merit will be
required at another time in
Jewish history. When
Mashiach, comes, Moses
will be called upon to lead
the Jewish people back to
Israel. •
Thus, even though Moses
received a hard chastise-
ment from God, within that
punishment are the seeds
of a blessing for the future,
too, Rabbi Jacobovitz says. ❑

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