The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Kislev 17, 5768/November 27, 2007

The Darkest Hour

They say the darkest hour is just before dawn. If one were to trace the origin of this aphorism, he might discover its source to be from this past week's Torah reading, Vayishlach, (Genesis 32:4 - 36:43), specifically, the nighttime struggle between Ya'akov (Jacob) and the mysterious stranger who appeared while Ya'akov remained alone on the east bank of the Yabbok River (ibid 32:25). Who was this unnamed stranger, what was the nature of their battle, and what are we to learn from the outcome of their nocturnal clash?

This Yabbok River incident is understood to be of seminal significance both to the life of Ya'akov avinu, Jacob our forefather, and to the character of the future nation of Israel. It is therefore not surprising that tens of commentators have written thousands of words exploring every facet of the duel. Yet, as to the identity of Ya'akov's adversary, all sages opine alike: he is none other that the guardian angel of Esav, alternatively known as the yetzer hara - the evil inclination. A Midrash concerning the verse, "'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'" (ibid 1:26) tells us that G-d, (in a show of humility), was addressing the angels. All the angels happily participated, each one bestowing upon man a particular quality. All, that is, except for the angel of Esav. He did not accept G-d's desire to create man with the intention that man would in turn perfect creation, and by perfecting creation, welcome G-d's presence into this world.

This same angel has appeared uninvited in Ya'akov's life as he prepares for his much anticipated meeting with Esav. What was the angel's "motivation," as it were? We are told that the two "wrestled." (ibid 32:25) The Hebrew vaye-avek, "wrestled," is from the same grammatical root of the word avak - "dust." Midrash teaches that the two combatants literally "kicked up the dust" with their exertions, causing the very "throne of glory" to be obscured. The "throne of glory," in Jewish tradition, represents nothing less than the heavenly source of the souls of all mankind. Likewise, the expression signifies the very will of G-d to create this world. To obscure this single truth, that creation has a purpose, and that man has a consequential role to play in the fulfillment of creation, is to cast the world in darkness. And this is precisely what the angel of Esav sought to do: to create despair in the heart of Ya'akov, to cause him to grow weary, to lose his way, to feel all alone, cast off by man and G-d. This was how the angel devised to reverse creation itself: by depriving it of purpose.

Rather than succumb, however, Ya'akov held tight, compelling the angel to bless him. The angel did so, renaming Ya'akov "Yisrael; for you have striven with G-d and with men, and have prevailed.'" (ibid 32:29) By holding fast, by not allowing himself to be overcome by darkness, Ya'akov, now Yisrael, literally brought the light of dawn back into creation.

Dark forces in the world have today coalesced at Annapolis, where, like the angel of Esav, they are attempting yet again, to squeeze the life out of Israel, by blotting out the light of its holy source in this world, and dimming its sense of purpose. Were these sons of Esav to know that Ehud Olmert and associates do not, never have, and never will represent the holy nation of Israel, they might have saved themselves the effort of their evil designs. The real nation of Israel, scion of our righteous forefather, is here in the land of Israel, as ever, "striving with G-d and man." And as promised, we will prevail.

Join Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven this week on TEMPLE TALK, as they discuss Ya'akov's wrestle with the angel, his confrontation with Esav, the rape of Dinah, and the return to Beit El, and the message each of these matters impart to us in the age of Annapolis.

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Part 1
Part 2