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Vayishlach: The Struggle with Eisav’s Angel

Miriam Aflalo

 “… and he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Yaakov’s thigh was strained …”

(Vayishlach 32:26)


The Zohar says: “The hollow of his thigh — this is referring to those who support the Torah.” … Eisav’s angel wrestled with Yaakov regarding the brachos that Yitzchak had bestowed on him. Yaakov claimed that the brachos belonged to him, because his descendants were destined to receive the Torah, and to toil in it. Eisav’s angel couldn’t deny this argument. Thus this verse begins, “And when he saw that he could not prevail …”

But in the end, Eisav’s angel claimed that a time would come at the end of the Exile, meaning, “before the dawn,” when most of the Jewish People would be lax about strengthening the Torah scholars, and thus their studies would be interrupted. This is hinted by the hollow of the thigh. Just as the thigh supports the body, so those who strengthen the Torah, keep the scholars standing. Thus, it was there that the angel of Eisav overcame and harmed him, as it says, “and Yaakov’s thigh was strained.” (Chofetz Chaim al haTorah)

Yaakov fought with this being who was not of flesh and blood. Alone. All night. Steadfastly refusing to return the brachos. “But why do you desire Eisav’s share?” the angel asked in wonder. And Yaakov answered that his descendants were destined to learn Torah.

The angel was silenced. He saw that “he could not prevail” — so great is the merit of Torah. Even Eisav’s angel was subdued before such logic. But in the moment before dawn, he exclaimed, “When the days before the dawn will come, in the moments before Mashiach, there will come times of hardship for those who learn Torah. They won’t be supported anymore; they will no longer be seen as the power of the nation. ‘Go to work,’ they’ll be told, and their stipends will be cut off. Philanthropists will prefer to finance famous organizations that will guarantee them honor, but for a group of men exerting themselves over their Gemara, no money will remain.”

And Yaakov was harmed.

“The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children.” In every generation, they wage war on us to weaken those who toil in Torah. When he sees that the scholars continue to struggle, then the enemy aims his arrows at those who support Torah, trying to prevent them in every way from doing so. Their hearts are sealed and the voice of the scholars in distress doesn’t reach their ears. And the evil one thinks that because they have no support, the scholars will cast aside their studies and desert the yeshivos. (ibid.)

The angel of Eisav, in each generation, rubs his hands together in glee: “Now those who keep Torah will leave the yeshivos and go out and discover the big world that awaits them outside the ‘shtetl.’ They’ll all join the army and attend universities. They’ll sit on leather office chairs and their children will assimilate. This time, we’ve won.”

But, the Torah reveals to us that even though the angel succeeded, the war is still on. … “Yaakov’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him.” The supporters might be conquered, but Yaakov will struggle on. This is a sign for us that the Torah will never be forsaken … despite all the torment and decrees. On the contrary, Yaakov emerged triumphant and even rose to a higher spiritual level, now called Yisrael.” (ibid.)

“For you have struggled with Hashem and with men and have prevailed.” You are victorious, Yisrael. Their threats and decrees didn’t help them. If you have no support and little hope of an income, they still won’t succeed against you. Eisav’s angel came to cast Yaakov down, and remained to bless him. He blessed those who learn Torah with self-sacrifice;, and their wives who are ready to forgo a life of comfort; and the pure, clear voices of Jewish children learning Torah.

The Chofetz Chaim once asked why the angel didn’t fight Avraham or Yitzchak. “Since the angel could bear Avraham’s deeds of kindness and Yitzchak’s prayers. It couldn’t bear Yaakov’s Torah.” And ever since then, the war has been against those who learn Torah and support it.

Chesed organizations are fine, and davening, too. But learning Torah, in yeshivah, kollel, or in cheder? Suddenly, everyone’s up in arms.

Dawn nears. Mashiach’s footsteps can be heard. The darkness of exile is clearing before our astonished eyes. Continue to grasp hold of the Tree of Life, of Torah. Eisav’s angel tries to dry up the waters that nourish the tree, and the donors’ hands are weakened by the shouts of contempt.

But they can never silence the voice of Torah. And on that Great Day when the sun of Redemption shines, everyone will know we’ve triumphed.

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