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Deal With It

By: Rabbi Ari Berman

On the eve before his confrontation with Esav, Ya’akov is attacked by an anonymous man who wrestles with him until the morning.  Rashi citing the rabbinic tradition writes that the anonymous man was the ministering angel of Esav who attacked Ya’akov seemingly in an effort to defeat him.  But Rashbam offers another interpretation of the story.  According to Rashbam, the angel in the story was not trying to hurt Ya’akov but help him.  This suggestion of Rashbam is based on his novel approach to the story of Ya’akov confronting Esav.  While it seems from the story that Ya’akov was preparing for a confrontation with Esav, Rashbam explains that Ya’akov was actually preparing an escape.  According to this reading, Ya’akov sent ahead a series of presents to Esav not to pacify Esav before their meeting but to direct Esav to follow the road from which the presents arrived.  Since Ya’akov surreptitiously guided Esav and his four hundred men to follow one specific route, he was able to slip away on a different road and avoid the encounter.  Ya’akov’s plan worked to perfection and during the night before Esav arrived he moved his camp and began his escape.  But suddenly an anonymous man appeared who wrestled with him until the morning.  The angel in this story is not trying to defeat Ya’akov but delay him.  His goal is to hold Ya’akov back and not allow him to escape.  Ya’akov fought vehemently to escape and finally the angel needed to dislocate Ya’akov’s hip in order to ensure that he would not be able to run away.  When the sun rose, it was too late for Ya’akov to flee as Esav was already on his way and the angel was then prepared to leave having succeeded in his task of ensuring the confrontation between brothers.

This reading presents the story in a very different light.  From this perspective of the story it was important for Ya’akov to not flee from Esav but to deal with him directly.  While Ya’akov’s instinct told him to run away from difficult encounters and hard conversations, avoiding the confrontation would not have been in Ya’akov’s best interest.  He needed to deal with his brother, address his past and face the consequences of his earlier decision to disguise himself as his brother and deceive his father into giving him the blessings.  The role of the angel in the story is not to enable Ya’akov to take the easy way out but to direct him to address his issues openly and honestly.  This story, then, teaches us a very important life lesson. There is a natural tendency in people to avoid difficult situations and evade hard conversations.  We shy away from unpleasantness and often believe that the best path in life is the one that poses the least resistance.  But while superficially this approach appears to make life easier it actually arrests one’s character development as it prevents one from the growth experiences that come as a result of addressing and working through serious issues and challenges.  The angels in our lives are not those that enable us to succumb to our weaknesses but those who give us the courage to confront and overcome our greatest challenges. 

Shabbat Shalom




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