JACOB COMBAT PRINCIPLES
by Moshe Katz
“And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, the opponent touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained as he wrestled with him. And the opponent said: Let me go, for dawn has broken. And Jacob said I will not let you go unless you bless me. And the man said to him: What is your name? and he said, Jacob, Yaakov.
And the man said, Your name shall be called Jacob no more, but Israel, Yisra-El, for you have striven with God and with men, and you have prevailed. (Yisra – Strive, El – God)
And Jacob asked him and said, Tell me, what is your name?, and he said, Why do you ask for my name, and he blessed him there. (Genesis, Chapter 32)
We are approaching an iconic moment in history, one of those rare moments that changes history. Israel will be born in a struggle, and this moment will teach us that we must never give up the fight.
Jacob, a man of peace, is left alone. He has securely passed his entire clan across the river, all these children, his wives, everyone is safe on the other side, and Jacob, for a moment is left alone. It will be a monumental struggle with great spiritual and historical ramifications.
The 18th-century Hasidic scholar and Rebbe, known as “The Noam Elimelech”, or Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum of Leżajsk, writes that this staying alone has great spiritual meaning. He explains that the Hasidim, the Pious ones, have this concept of “Aloneness”, or in Hebrew, Hithbodeduth, where they take a period of time to be alone, and to feel God, nature, and one’s inner-self, that one must feel total Aloneness in order to reach one’s one inner-self and God, and progress spiritually.
The “Rashbam”, or Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (France, 12th century) writes that Jacob suffered this injury to his thigh as a punishment for his running away, that God had made a promise to Jacob and yet Jacob feared Esau and ran away. (although it was his wise mother, Rebecca’s advice).
What we see here is the final transformation of Jacob, Yaakov, Hebrew for “the one who follows”, to Israel, Yisra El, Hebrew for “the one who struggled with God and man and has prevailed.” This was a personal test Jacob had to go through, a fierce wrestling match that lasted until the break of dawn, his black belt test. Now he would emerge as the grandmaster of Israel and become the father of the nation.
“And Jacob was left alone”…we see that all of us, at some point in our lives, find ourselves alone, we find ourselves at a deep dark point, a turning point perhaps, where we need to dig deep inside our souls and find out who we really are and what we are made of. Jacob went against his nature, he is a peaceful man, a dweller of tents, he is not the hunter and killer that Esau is, but for the sake of his family, he overcomes himself and becomes something greater, he becomes ISRAEL.
We look to Jacob for inspiration. It is 1973, Yom Kippur. The Arabs have attacked in the North and in the South. A young man is sitting in his tank instead of sitting in the synagogue, he looks out to the horizon and sees hundreds of Syrian tanks approaching, and he is outnumbered by 100 to 1, he thinks back to Jacob, “and Jacob was left alone” and a Man struggled with him until the break of dawn”. Jacob emerged limping but he was still moving forward and his family was safe. The Israeli tank commander sees the hundreds of Syrian tanks approaching and he shouts to his crew; Get ready boys! This is the fight of our lives. Today each one of us is the Patriarch Jacob, we will struggle until the break of dawn but we will prevail.
Jacob did not win this fight, he simply prevented the enemy from overtaking him. In 1973, the Israeli forces first stopped the enemy forces, they prevented them from penetrating Israel. Only later the counter-attack would come and they would be in the range of Damascus in Syria, and Cairo in Egypt, and then the message would come through from America; you may not take their capitals, this is bad for America, you must stop now. You may not totally humiliate the Arab nations.
As Miyagi Sensei told Daniel San, win or lose not matter, earn respect. Jacob earned the respect of his opponent who finally gave up and wanted to leave. But Jacob said no, you cannot leave yet. I have struggled with you, and now I deserve a reward, bless me before you go. It is at this point that the opponent, whom our rabbis say is a Messenger of God, representing Esau, blesses Jacob and changes his name to Israel. You might call this the black belt ceremony, the recognition that you have struggled and overcome.
This event took place nearly 4,000 years ago and we are still in this struggle. The lesson is eternal, for the nation of Israel which still bears his name, and for all humanity who struggle. We may emerge limping, but we will prevail. We will see the break of dawn, the light of day, and a new blessing.
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