Parashat Vayishlach // “He Sent”

- ע ל ם -

What should a person do when they find themselves struggling against their own darkness and lowliness? 

Jacob crosses the Jordan River, expects the worst

“And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother…And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed…I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.” Genesis 32:10 – 11

  • Jacob travels back to Canaan to meet his brother Esau. First, he flees Haran and prepares himself for the worst possible outcome. The Jewish sages detail Jacob’s arrangements: “Gifts, prayer, and war” (Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 19:3). Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob becomes fearful and wants to flee again. However, an angel from God is sent to dissuade him. Jacob is on a very high spiritual level, as opposed to Esau who lives in darkness and sin. Jacob tries to correct his brother’s evil inclinations, but to no avail – Esau is determined to hurt him. Jacob’s world is in dire straits; he needs God’s protection to face this new threat.

Jacob wrestles with the angel into the night

“And Jacob was left alone; 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 out of joint, as he wrestled with him…” Genesis 32:24 – 25

  • Jacob finds himself in a problematic situation vis-à-vis Esau and his men, who stand ready to attack him. Jacob turns to God in prayer and “reminds” Him of His covenant with Jacob’s ancestors. Jacob stays beside the river crossing and waits. “Will my prayer be answered?” Immediately afterwards, an angel appears and engages in combat with Jacob. The battle lasts into the night and Jacob emerges victorious. Jacob promises to let the angel go in exchange for a blessing. The angel caves and names him “Israel.” He – who began his life in defeat by grabbing the ankle of his first-born brother Esau – is now triumphant: “For you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:29). From this moment on, this will be Jacob’s new essence. After suffering collapses, persecutions, and excruciatingly long journeys, Jacob now presents himself as assertive, undaunted, and groundbreaking. He has become worthy of establishing the nation of Israel.

Pearls of Divine Wisdom: “He Sent”  

  • When we find ourselves trapped in places of darkness, it is time to cast off our negative thoughts, open up, take action, get out, and face our adversaries.  This full exposure will enlighten us, revive us, and equip us with the resources we need to cope and prevail.
  • When we allow ourselves to feel unworthy and do not acknowledge our true value, we cave to our inner darkness. We are afraid to take responsibility. But depression is a means to revelation – spiritual awakening can come only following distress. Crises cause us to explore our truth, reevaluate our lives, and build ourselves anew.
  • The more we challenge ourselves, the greater our spiritual growth. However, when we undermine ourselves – by discounting our worth and abilities – there cannot be growth and we will become diminished. Indeed, to have fear is only human; however, yielding to fear is a mistake. By exploring our truth and squarely facing our obstacles, we can progress upward.
  • We need to accept ourselves and be ourselves without trying to escape our destinies, our identities, and our mission. Our complete and broken selves will always live side by side. We must embrace and live our imperfect lives fully.

Realization is transforming ideas and plans into concrete results – in the same way that God has the power of creation.