"with G-d and with men"
Avraham Avinu was a revolutionary, who discovered the existence of G-d through his own intellect and came to realize that His presence not only filled all creation, but that He was accessible to all mankind. He introduced his knew-found knowledge to others, creating the nucleus of a theo-centric - G-d based society.
Yitzchak, who willingly accompanied his father to Mount Moriah, where the two of them faced their greatest test, was much more introspective than Avraham. Despite being the "father of all settlers," never leaving the land of Israel, prodigiously digging wells, sowing fields and reaping great harvests, he is most often remembered as "the son of Avraham..."
But it was Yaakov who was given the unique responsibility of becoming the father of the future nation of Israel. As such it was his challenge to match wits and wills with many hostile elements which sought to destroy him and his family. He had to wrestle with Lavan, with Esau, and even with a mysterious angel, who renamed him "Yisrael, because you have commanding power with G-d and with men, and you have prevailed." (Genesis 32:29)
It was precisely this quality which earned him the role as the father and shaper of the future nation of Israel. Of the three patriarchs, Yaakov would seem to be the most complex. From his early description of being a "pure man dwelling in tents," (ibid 25:27) he became a many faceted husband of two wives, father of thirteen children, son-in-law of an unscrupulous schemer, expert shepherd and innovator in the science of animal husbandry, and developed the leathery toughness, spiritually, as well as physically, necessary to confront and stand up to Lavan and Esau, all the while placing his children's well-being first. In order for him to do so he was required to transcend, as it were, his own spiritual strengths and attributes, even taking on some of the Esau-like qualities that were so antithetical to his "pure man" essence.
Many of Yaakov's decisions, such as his three-tiered approach to Esau upon returning to the land, (appeasement, preparation for war, and prayer), were nuanced, with the future nation's well-being as his ultimate consideration. This aptitude for survival in a very harsh environment would continue to characterize his future actions, both in the land of Canaan, (as in the incident concerning Dinah andShechem), and later, after arriving in Egypt to reunite with Yosef. This instinct for survival and the preservation of the family unit, against all odds, would ultimately serve his children well.
Yaakov seems easier to identify with than the forefathers who preceded him, no doubt for the very reasons we have cited above. He is known as the man of truth, meaning that truth most characterized his thoughts and actions. From this we learn a great truth about the nature of truth itself: the path of truth traverses many contradictions. It is not a smooth path, nor is it always clearly marked. But in order to arrive at the destination called truth, one must be prepared to deal with and resolve, on an ever higher spiritual level, those very contradictions that mark the way. And this would seem to be the blessing contained in the angel's words to Yaakov:
"Your name shall no longer be called Yaakov, but Israel, because you have commanding power with G-d and with men, and you have prevailed." (ibid 32:29)
Indeed, this man of truth, pure yet complex, is the very same man who lay down to rest, and dreamed of a ladder reaching from the heaven to the earth, a house of G-d and "a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:7)
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the path of the righteous, Yaakov avinu and his vision of a house of G-d here on earth, Yaakov's struggles with his father-in-law, the self-sacrificing righteousness of Rachel and Leah, Yaakov's encounter with the angel, and his showdown with brother Esau. Also: new Temple Institute projects!