Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Yaakov Wrestles - Yaakov Comes Home
In fear Yaakov calls out to HaShem for safety and deliverance for himself, his family and all he possessed. However, his supplication to HaShem is not based upon his own merit but strictly upon the promise of Adonai given to him, his father (Yitzhak) and his grandfather (Avraham).
”Yet You have said, ‘I will deal bountifully with you and make your offspring as the sands of the sea, which are too numerous to count.’”- Genesis 32:13
Yaakov reminds Him of His promise thereby letting HaShem know that, not because of anything Ya’akov has done, but only because of the words of promise of Adonai is he and his worth saving deliverance.
”I am unworthy of the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown your servant:…” - Genesis 32:11
Yaakov has come a long way from that brash young usurper that fled from his brother over three decades earlier. He has become a new man, molded and shaped by HaShem, ready and fit for his role that will soon be revealed with Adonai granting him a new name, one that will forever be stamped upon the Land he will inherit and the peoples he will father.
”Said he, ‘Your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with Elohim, and have prevailed.’” - Genesis 32:29
”G-d said to him, ‘You whose name is Yaakov, you shall be called Ya’akov no more. But Yisrael shall be your name.’ Thus He named him Yisrael.” - Genesis 35:9-10
The moving away from the worship and trust of many gods to the One True G-d was a very slow process for the family and servants of Yaakov. It didn’t happen overnight. While Yisrael, his father and grandfather fully realized, not only the Unique Oneness of G-d and Creator of all that is and is not; those surrounding him, even members of his own household, were a bit slow on the uptake.
”So Yaakov said to his household and to all who were with him, ’Rid yourselves of the alien gods in your midst, purify yourselves, and change your clothes. Come let us go up to Bethel, and I will build an altar there to the G-d who answered me when I was in distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.’ They gave to Ya’akov all the alien gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears, and Ya’akov buried them under the terebinth that was near Shechem.”- Genesis 35:2-4
Verse 4 in Chapter 32 is translated as messengers being sent by Yaakov ahead of him to meet his brother Esav. Rashi interpreted this to mean real angels, not just ordinary men or servants of Ya’akov. These “angels” were dispatched in order to put the ‘fear of G-d’ into Esav so as to change his demeanor toward Ya’akov when they were to finally meet. It is obvious that Esav was not coming to greet his long gone brother with love. You don’t bring 400 fighting men along with you unless your intent was one of vengeance. By sending ahead of him the angelic messengers Esav, filled with the fear of Adonai was moved from an attitude of vengeance to one of conciliation and compassion for his brother.
Rashi thought Yaakov was using wisdom, not a lack of faith for he had come to know himself well and realized his own sinful behavior in the past with his brother, and perhaps recent failures at some point to ‘measure up’ to HaShem’s favor for protection from his brother, thereby setting up the events leading up to the encounter, i.e. the measured gifts in droves to Esav in advance.
The Midrash, however, isn’t as kind to Yaakov and dictates that his fear of Esav revealed, not practical wisdom but a lack of trust in HaShem’s protection of him, his family and his entire household.
I personally side with Rashi on this issue.
There are other commentaries from sections of the Zohar and the Rambam that also give some slack to Yaakov indicating his fear of Esav was both practical and necessary in order to draw him even closer to Adonai for protection and to ensure the fulfilling of HaShem’s promise to him to bless and make a great nation from out of him. (ibid 32:13)
What is the real significance of the telling of the wrestling match between Ya’akov and the man (angel) the night before meeting his brother Esav? [SEE: Genesis 32:25-31]
One: It was used by HaShem to issue to Ya’akov a new name, one more befitting, not only his own future, but the destiny of all his offspring - the Jewish people.
Two: Just as Yisrael (Yaakov) walked away from that encounter victorious but with a pronounced limp that would be part of the rest of his Earthly existence, so too, his namesake, the people and Nation of Yisrael would suffer injuries, persecutions and struggles throughout its existence only to one day ultimately succeed to the heights of accomplishments far greater than any nation before or since culminating in the Messianic age with the rule of HaShem from the Land of Yisrael with Mashiach, Son of David on the throne and the Shekinah of Adonai coming forth from the Kodesh HaKodashim in the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash on Mount Moriah.
In that future time all will know Adonai is King and will offer unto Him alone their praise and adulation Who is eternal forever and ever.