This Shabbos we read Parshas Vayishlach. In the Parsha we read of the story of Yaakov – our Patriarch Jacob, as he finally returned to Israel after being away from his parents for 22 years. As Jacob returned, he was afraid of the possibility that Esau would want to hurt him. He therefore sent a message to Esau trying to appease him. Esau responded by going to meet Jacob with an army of 400 men. Jacob prepared by this ominous meeting by sending a lavish gift to Esau to appease him, by praying, and by separating his camp into two groups in case there would be a war.
Before Jacob actually met Esau, the Torah describes an incident when Jacob was left all alone. While he was alone, he met a “man” who attempted to hurt him. He did manage to touch and dislocate the thigh of Jacob, wounding him enough to cause Jacob to limp. To this day the Jewish people don’t eat the sinew of an animal from the hip socket in memory of this incident.
Who was this “man” who fought with Jacob? Tradition tell us that this was no ordinary man. This was in fact the angel of Esau, who came to do battle with Jacob. In this battle we are taught a couple of beautiful points:
The Chofetz Chaim asked, why is it that the angel only did battle with Jacob? Why didn’t he attack Abraham or Isaac? He answered based on the fact that each of the Patriarchs stand for a different facet in serving Hashem. Abraham stands for chesed or kindness. Isaac stands for Avoda or prayer. Jacob stands for Emes (truth) or Torah. The angel of Esau is not threatened by the good deeds or regular mitzvos that a Jew does. While he may never want a Jew to do mitzvohs, he is not threatened by them. So too, when a Jew prays the angel of Esau can still survive. On the other hand, when a Jew studies Torah, the power of Torah study is so great that angel of Esau feels he must personally try to stop it. This idea must reinforce our commitment to Torah study as the most important part of our serving Hashem.
Another important point is taught to us from the end of the battle between Jacob and the angel. When their fight was finally over, Jacob asked the angel “What is your name”? The angel responded “Why do you ask for my name?” (Genesis 32:30) Why didn’t the angel give his name? Our commentators point out that angels have no independent self. Their entire being is only to do the will of their Creator. Their name, therefore, constantly changes according to the changing assignments that they are given. The angel of Esau in particular, gives challenges to us. When Jacob asked the angel for his name, he was really asking in what particular area do you try to challenge us. When the angel refused to tell him his name, what he was really saying is that there is no one challenge that we can point to and say – “this is the challenge we have to deal with”. The challenges of life are varied, many, and constantly change. What today is simple may tomorrow be a challenge. We have to recognize that the battle we wage with the angel of Esau is all encompassing, on all sides and directions of life. Once we realize this, we will hopefully constantly be on the lookout for all the varied challenges of life that come our way .