DJDS Student D'var Torah - Jonah, 8th Grade (Vayishlach)

DJDS Student D'var Torah - Jonah, 8th Grade (Vayishlach)
  • Weekly D'var Torah
Jonah E.

By Jonah E., Denver JDS 8th Grader


In this week's parsha, Vayishlach, Jacob runs away from Esau and finds refuge by the Jabbok river. He sends his wives and children and all of his belongings to one side of the river and waits apprehensively for his encounter with Esau. In the night, however, when he is alone, a man comes and wrestles with him the entire night. In the end, the man, realizing he can’t win, strikes him in the hip and dislocates it. In the next couple of verses, there is a very unusual conversation, where the man says, “Let me leave,” and Jacob says, “Only if you bless me,” so the man asks for his name and Jacob gives his name, and the man says, “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but now your name will be Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and have overcome.” After this, Jacob asks for the man’s name and he does not answer. Jacob calls this place Peniel, which means the face of G-d.

The confrontation between Jacob and a “man” was one of the most cosmic events in Jewish history. The Rabbis explained that the man was the guardian angel of Esau, in the guise of a man. I believe that this is how Jacob sees the face of G-d. We are all able to see Hashem’s face or spirit when we confront those we have wronged and repent for our wrongdoings. Jacob even later admits that he sees the face of the divine in Esau. 

The Sages say that every nation has a heavenly power, an angel that guides its destiny on Earth and acts as an “intermediary” between the nation and G-d. However, according to the Sages, two nations are unique: Israel and Esau (or what would later become Amalek). Israel needs no “intermediary,” it is G-d’s own people. And Jacob symbolizes man’s highest potential because his image is engraved on G-d’s throne of glory. Esau, on the other hand, has a guardian angel that is unique to all the others as well, but for a different reason. Because Esau is the epitome of evil, his angel must be the prime spiritual force of evil—Satan himself.

Jacob was terrified of seeing Esau and tried to avoid this meeting. When he finally steeled himself to confront his fears and meet his brother, the guardian angel of Esau—Satan, the Evil Inclination, came to him. Jacob wrestles with this angel and therefore, with himself, his wrongdoings, his very character. In meeting our greatest fears, we find our greatest rewards. We grow from our challenges and from our confrontations with ourselves. The biggest battle we fight is against ourselves. In life we battle people to be the best, to be better and more successful than everyone else; but in doing so, we hurt people. Perhaps this battle with the man was to settle the fight Jacob and Esau have been fighting since they came out of the womb. Maybe Jacob realized that night that it wasn’t about his birthright, or being better than his brother, but it was about himself. It was about G-d and pursuing kindness, service, and the Torah.

Every day we can make a choice. A choice to return the bag of Cheez-Its that Otis dropped, instead of taking it for yourself and eating the Cheez-Its. A choice to study math, the least important class of your academic career, or maybe even Talmud, the most important class of your academic career; instead of running Fortnite with Adam. 

There will always be an evil inclination fighting you, and there will always be tough times, especially for us Jews. But perhaps there will always be a way to get out of it or fight it, too. The battle with ourselves is a really difficult one, but it only takes motivation, mindset, and maybe sometimes a dislocated hip.


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