Yaakov will soon learn that relationship with God is not entered into in one’s own strength but at the end of one’s strength.
For a long time Yaakov has endeavoured to understand the Elohiym of his father Yitzchak, the Mercy (YHVH) of his grandfather Avraham. He has recognized HaShem as his Judge, Provider, Protector and Fear of Yitzchak, and has sought to obey His instructions. Now, having been freed from the enemy behind him (Laban), he walks forward into the arms of an old enemy, his brother Esau. Yaakov enters into a season of great distress.
The unknowable future and the threat of his brother’s wrath bring great emotional turmoil. In his struggle Yaakov cries out to God, recalling the wonders of God and His promises. It is in this season that Yaakov’s knowledge of God (Ha-Elohiym: The Judge) turns into his being known by HaShem (YHVH: Mercy). The Hebrew Paniym, meaning face/faces, is used seven times in this sidra (section), thus conveying an intimate and complete sense of personal relationship within the passage. Yaakov will soon learn that relationship with God is not entered into in one’s own strength but at the end of one’s strength.
32:1 Rising early in the morning Laban (White) kissed his grandchildren and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban left and returned to his place.
Rising early is an allusion to firm resolve. The fact that Laban omits kissing Yaakov stands in stark contrast to their first encounter (Gen. 29:13).
A father’s blessing, even the blessing of an unrighteous father, releases his children. Whether Laban knew it or not, by giving his daughters his blessing he was releasing them from curse. They were leaving Laban’s accursed idolatrous community and entering into the promised blessings of God.
2 And Yaakov ha-lach walked forth in l’dar’co his way, and encountered mal’acheiy (Messengers, Angels) of Elohiym (God: The Judge).
The book of Daniel (Dan. 10:10-15) reveals that the messengers/angels of God are charged with areas of governance and are constantly at work in the service of HaShem.
Darashot Ha-Ran 5:35 notes that the Shekhinah (Manifest Glory) was present in Yaakov’s revelation at Beit-El and that when Yaakov left Laban to return to the land of Israel the Shekhinah revealed to him that the land possessed great eminence over other lands. It goes on to say that the phrase, “met him” implies that the angels always walk in that land and therefore are met by one who enters it. It is for this reason that Jacob called that place Machanayim [camps]. For there are three levels of habitation: the habitation of the celestial encampment, the heavens; the habitation of the terrestrial encampment, the entire earth—with the exception of the land of Israel; and the land of Israel itself, which is both the habitation of the terrestrial encampment (human beings dwelling there) and the habitation of the celestial encampment (“for I have met there a camp of angels”).
3 Then Yaakov said when he saw them, “Machaneih Elohiym, This is the camp of God”, and he named that place Macha’nayim (Camps).
Later in the text the term machanot is used to describe two camps. It is therefore noteworthy that the term machanayim is used in verse 3.
Radak notes that Yaakov’s reaction to these angels was similar to that of Avraham, his grandfather, in Genesis 18, 20, when the latter is described as running to welcome them as soon as he saw them (Radak on Genesis 32:3:1).
Yaakov’s naming of this place reflects his realization that God is in the place. “This is the camp of God” recalls Yaakov’s words at Beit-El, “This is none other than the House of God!” [Gen. 28:10-22]
Parashat Vayishlach (And he went forth)
This Parashat begins the journey of Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel). In one sense his life of exile and returning, like the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak, acts as a type for the cyclical rhythm of Israel’s being exiled and returned.
4 Then Yaakov sent malachiym messengers l’panayn before his face to his brother Esau (Hairy), to the land of Seiyr (Hairy), the field of Edom (Red).
Having met with the messengers of God, Yaakov now sends his own messengers. The Hebrew malakh is the root for both angel and messenger. Thus the messengers of God share their title with the messengers of Yaakov. Based on the common noun “malakh” Rashi concludes that Yaakov sent angelic messengers to meet Esau.
The name Seiyr and Edom allude to the fact that Esau has become an established presence in the land. Seiyr is the mountainous region from Yam ha-melach (the Sea of Salt) south to the Gulf of Aqaba.
5 And commanded them saying, “This is what you should say to adoniy my lord, to Esau: ‘This is what your servant (av’deicha) Yaakov said: I’ve been lodging (gar’ti) with Laban, and have lingered until now. 6 Now I’ve come to possess oxen and donkeys, flocks, male servants and female servants. I sent word to tell my lord, in order to find favour in your eyes.’”
In explaining his current status to Esau, Yaakov uses the term “Gar’ti” from the root “Geir” meaning stranger or alien. He does this in order to humble himself before Esau as one who has no princely status, having remained nothing more than an alien. Additionally Yaakov uses the term adoni (My lord) to address Esau and the term av’deicha (Your servant) to refer to himself.
7 The messengers (ha-malakhiym) returned to Yaakov saying, “We went to your brother, to Esau, and he’s also coming out to meet you—and 400 men with him.”
If Esau’s intention at this juncture was to forgive Yaakov he would have had no need of 400 men. The fact that he had mustered such a large contingent is evidence that he intended to overcome Yaakov by force and take what he believed rightfully belonged to him. He is ready for war and is aware that Yaakov is vulnerable having only family and servants in his camp.
Rashi paraphrases, “We came to the person whom you regard as your brother, but he behaves toward you as a wicked Esau—he still harbours hatred”.
8 So Yaakov became extremely afraid and distressed. He divided the people with him, along with the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps machanot, 9 for he thought, “If Esau comes to the one camp ha-machaneh ha-achat and strikes it, the camp ha-machaneh that’s left will escape.”
Yaakov, the patriarch, blessed of HaShem and chosen for prosperity among the nations, having been fiercely certain of his position only days before when challenging Laban, is now terrified, distressed and afraid. This vulnerability only serves to show his great need for HaShem, his realization that in his own strength he cannot overcome the army of Esau. Up to this point Yaakov has shown great integrity and has worked hard to gain wives and wealth. At this juncture he has come to the end of himself, and so he calls upon God.
10 Then Yaakov said, “Eloheiy God of my father Avraham, v’Eloheiy and God of my father Yitzchak, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Adonai, Who said to me, ‘Shuv Return to your land and to your relatives and I will do good with you.’
Yaakov calls on God the Judge as God of his father Avraham and as God the Judge of his father Yitzchak, and finally, he calls on HaShem (YHVH) God as Mercy, crying out in desperation to a personal God, Whose Name he doesn’t know (Exodus 6:3). In his fear of the unknowable future Yaakov turns back to the promises God has already pronounced. He speaks back to HaShem the words that HaShem has spoken over him, not in order to remind God of His promise but in order to remind himself of God’s faithfulness.
11 I am small in respect to all ha-chasadiym the mercies, graces, kindnesses and all ha-emet the truth, faithfulness that You have shown to your servant. For with only my staff I crossed over the Yarden (descender), and now I’ve become two camps (Machanot).
Instead of whining Yaakov acknowledges his smallness before God and the prosperity he has experienced due to God’s blessing upon him.
12 Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from Esau’s hand, for I’m afraid of him that he’ll come and strike me--and the mothers with the children. 13 You Yourself said, ‘I will most certainly do good with you, and will make your seed like the sand of the sea that cannot be counted because of its abundance.’”
Yaakov’s pattern of prayer begins with calling on God by Name. He then acknowledges his need to return according to the instruction of God. Following this he admits his own smallness and vulnerability before God and recounts God’s grace and goodness toward him. Finally he asks God to deliver him and his household and reminds himself of God’s promise of abundant seed.
14 So he stayed there overnight. Then from all that had come into his possession he took a tribute for Esau his brother: 15 200 female goats, 20 billy goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 16 30 milking camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys.
Yaakov sent his tribute in numbers divisible by ten, thus indicating his desire to effect fullness of reconciliation with his brother Esau. Yaakov ensured that there would be a proportionate number of males so as to provide the best conditions for good breeding and the enlargement of the herds. This was a gift that Yaakov intended would keep on giving to his brother Esau.
17 He put them in the hands of his servants, each herd by itself, and he said to his servants, “Iv’ru Pass over before my face (L’panay), and put a gap between each of the herds.” 18 Then he commanded the first one saying, “When my brother Esau meets you and asks you saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do all these before you belong?’ 19 then you are to say, ‘To your servant, to Yaakov—it’s a tribute sent to my lord, to Esau. And look, he’s also behind us.’” 20 And he also commanded the second one, the third one, and all those who were going behind the flocks, saying, “Say the same exact thing to Esau when you find him. 21 Then you are to say, ‘Look, your servant Yaakov is also behind us.’” For he thought, “Let me appease him with the tribute that goes ahead of me, and afterward see his face, perhaps he’ll lift up my face.” 22 So the tribute passed over ahead of him, while he spent that night in the camp. 23 Then he got up that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, v’ya’avor and passed over the ford of the Yabok (emptying). 24 He took them and sent them across the stream, and he sent across all that he had.
Yaakov’s generous tribute seeks to sooth Esau’s anger and pave the way for reconciliation. He has also sent the tribute with his servants ahead of his family to act as a tactical buffer should fighting break out. This section ends with Yaakov taking his wives and children across the Yabok, and his return to dwell in silence before the Lord. He knows that Esau is still several days off and is seeking solitude in order to gather his thoughts and find peace in the knowledge that God has directed his path. As we will soon read in the following chapter, he has not left his wives vulnerable, to the contrary, this separation is temporary and he will go out before them to meet Esau when he draws near.
The Hebrew Yabok, meaning tributary, literally means, “Emptying”. This is a poignant symbol of Yaakov’s having been emptied of all his self-reliance so that he might become utterly and completely reliant on God.
Jacob Wrestles With God
25 So Yaakov remained there alone. Then a man (Ish) wrestled with him until the dawn ascended (alot).
“He took his brother by the heel in the womb,
And in his strength he struggled with Elohiym (God).
Yes, he struggled with the malakh (Angel) and overcame;
He wept, and sought favour from Him.
He found Him in Beit-el,
And there He spoke to us--
That is, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Elohiym (God: Judge) Ha-tzvaot (of hosts).
HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) is His memorable name.” –Hosea 12:3-5
Whatever Yaakov’s reasons for remaining alone, one thing is certain, he had previously been met by God in similar solitude. We note that it is a Man that meets Yaakov. In fact the term malakh (angel: messenger) is not used for the duration of this encounter.
While it’s not uncommon for God to appear His servants in human form as a messenger (Gen. 18:2, 19:1 Exodus 4:24-26; Josh. 5:13-15; Judges 13:6, 10; Daniel 10:8-14). It is unusual for the qualifying common noun malakh to be missing from an account. The reason the Man is not called by the title Malakh Ha-Elohiym is to ensure that there is no confusion as to His identity.
Our Sages have tried to misdirect us by proposing ludicrous theories concerning who this Man is. Some have said that the Man is Esau’s guardian angel, an impossible conclusion given the Hosea text and the fact that Yaakov identifies the Man as representing the face of God. Others mistakenly conclude that the Man is simply the Angel of the Name YHVH, the Archangel of extra-Biblical Jewish writings, known as Metatron. However, this is precisely the reason the term malakh is not used here. “A Man wrestled with him”.
Yaakov is physically wrestling with the Man, he is also wrestling with the unknown, with God, with life in a fallen world. Thus he wrestles through the night (a time of darkness) and is released into freedom at the rising of dawn (A symbol of resurrection and renewal).
26 When He (The Man) saw that He could not overcome him (Yaakov), He struck the socket of his hip, so He dislocated the socket of Yaakov’s hip when He wrestled with him.
We know from verse 31 that the Man is God (with us). Therefore, we learn a great deal from the fact that this Man (Who is God with us) has come in a form of equal strength to Yaakov, and yet shows that with a simple touch He is able to immobilize him.
The Man could have disabled Yaakov at the beginning of their wrestling, however, He was ministering to Yaakov in his struggle. HaShem had been with Yaakov all along and had never left his side. The Man is showing Yaakov that He will walk in the strength of men, redeeming them with through the realization of weakness.
27 Then He (The Man) said, “Let Me go, for the dawn has gone up (alah).”
It’s time for you to stop struggling in the darkness of self-determination and let go of your need to have control over the outcome of your life. Now is the dawn of a new beginning in your life.
But he (Yaakov) said, “I won’t let You go unless You bless me.”
Yaakov answers the request of the Man with his usual tenacity and the realization that the only one Who can truly set him free and provide him with the blessing he needs is the One Whom he is wrestling with, that is, God Himself. So he now ceases to wrestle and simply cleaves tight to the Man, relying entirely on the Man for his redemption.
28 Then He (The Man) said to him, “What is your name?”
“Yaakov,” he said.
29 Then He (The Man) said, “Your name will no longer be Yaakov, but rather Yisrael, for you have sariyta persevered, struggled with Elohiym God and with men, and you have overcome.”
God has brought Yaakov to the end of himself and the realization that he is unable to deliver himself. Now that Yaakov has let go of his attempts to control his relationship with God, God gives him the name of his redemption. Once he was Yaakov, follower at the heel, now he is Yisrael, Yisra (Overcome) El (God), “He who overcomes in God”.
30 Then Yaakov asked and said, “hagidah tell me Your name.”
“ I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, as El Shaddai (God Almighty), but by My name HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) I was not known to them.” –Exodus 6:3
The Holy Name YHVH is present retrospectively within the stories of the Patriarchs because they understood the personal nature of God and the attribute of Mercy associated to the Holy Name though they did not know God by that Name. When Moshe recorded the Torah at Sinai He inserted the Holy Name in the appropriate places so as to convey the attribute of Mercy and the uniqueness of the God of Israel.
But He (The Man) said, “Why ask this—My name?” Then He (The Man) blessed him there.
The Name of the Man is beyond Yaakov’s comprehension (Exodus 4:24-26). Alternatively, “Why ask My Name, when you already know Who I AM?”
“And the Malakh HaShem (YHVH) Angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask My name, seeing it is incomprehensible, wonderful?’” –Judges 13:18
And the Man blessed Yaakov according to his request.
31 So Yaakov named the place Peni-el (My face-God), “for I’ve seen Elohiym God face/s (Paniym) to face/s (Paniym), and my soul life has been delivered.”
Based on Yaakov’s realization, there can be no doubt that the Man in the text is God manifest in human form. This verse allows for no other interpretation. “My face has seen God and He has delivered my soul”.
The only person Who qualifies as the Man who wrestled with Yaakov is the Messiah, Immanuel (God with us), Yeshua (Jesus) our King and Deliverer.
“Therefore HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (God with us)” –Yishaiyahu/Isaiah 7:14
Peniel is on the north side of the Yabok (the wadi Zerka)
32 Now the sun rose upon him just as he passed over by Peni-el—limping because of his hip. 33 That is why the children of Yisrael do not eat the tendon of the hip socket, to this very day, because He (The Man) struck the socket of Yaakov’s thigh on the tendon of the hip.
To this day the tendon on the outside of the hip is not kosher to eat. Kashrut (Rabbinical kosher law) prohibits the consumption of this part of the animal (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 65). This serves as a living reminder of this account, which is one of the most vivid figurative examples of the Gospel message within the Torah.
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.