In this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us about the confrontation between Yaakov and Esav’s spiritual counterpart. Yaakov clung tenaciously to Hashem and prevailed. However, in the midst of the struggle, the Malach of Esav injured Yaakov in the hip. Subsequently, the Malach of Esav blessed Yaakov as it says in Bereishis 32:29; “No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisroel [will be your name], for you have striven with the divine … and you have overcome.” Even though the Malach of Esav changed Yaakov’s name to Yisroel, the Torah in many places still refers to him as Yaakov. In contradistinction, the Gemara in Berachos 13a states that Hashem was the one that changed Avram’s name to Avraham, and his name remained forever changed to Avraham and it is forbidden to call him by the name of Avram.
Why by Yaakov when his name was changed it was not permanent? In the Gemara Nedarim 32b the Chochamim say tha Avram’s name has a numerical value of 243, signifying that Hashem initially gave Avraham mastery over 243 limbs of the body. After his circumcision, he was given mastery over all 248 limbs of the body. The name of Avraham has a numerical value of 248, meaning that he was the total master of himself. Hashem blessed him so that the negative impulses would be powerless against him forever. On the other hand, the incident of Yaakov’s battle with the Malach of Esav foreshadows that the descendants of Esav will desire to destroy Klal Yisroel throughout the ages.
The injury that Yaakov sustained signifies that all the righteous descendants of Yaakov will be endangered in each generation. Therefore, although Yaakov did prevail over the Malach of Esav, his victory did not mark a decisive defeat of Esav’s destructive force. Hence, Yaakov’s name change to Yisroel was not permanent, just as his victory was temporary.
This incident that happened between the Malach of Esav and Yaakov conveys the message that no matter how many times we are endangered, we can triumph, just as Yaakov Avinu did. Moreover the Bracha and healing that Yaakov ultimately received signifies that the great light that will shine on us at the time of our redemption – when the dominance of Klal Yisroel will finally endure forever.
My own thought is that the lesson to remember is that the Yetzer Hara is the Malach of Esav. That the Yetzer Hara strikes when we least expect it and he tries to defeat us and to completely destroy us spiritually. It is it up to you to look for your inner “Yisroel” to prevail against him. The biggest thing that I see throughout Klal Yisroel and it is still a big problem is our own prejudice against one another. We should learn to more tolerant and accepting to help Klal Yisroel unite under one banner and this will be the ultimate defeat against the power of Esav and can bring the Final Geulah.
This Dvar Torah is based on Etz Pri of the Steipler Gaon.