My friend’s father was a paratrooper in the Israeli army during the Six-Day War. He was dropped off in middle of the desert with orders to blow up the Egyptian planes while they were still on the tarmac. The miraculous success of the destruction of the Egyptian air force, before they were able to take off, gained the Israeli army full control of the sky during the war. This key tactical move is now studied in many military academies worldwide.
This concept explains an anomaly in Parshas Vayishlach. When Yaakov returned for the small jugs he had left behind, he encountered a man who attacked him. The Midrash tells us this man was really the ministering angel of Eisav—represented by the Satan—who was attacking Yaakov upon his return to Eretz Yisrael.
Yet, why did the angel not start up with Avraham or Yitzchak? Why only Yaakov? Rav Elchonon Wasserman quotes the Chofetz Chaim, who explained the military tactic mentioned earlier. If one wants to defeat a powerful enemy, he must destroy their arsenal. In this way they won’t even have the ability to fight!
Each of the three patriarchs perfected a different quality. Avraham was the pillar of chesed; Yitzchak perfected his fear of Hashem, and Yaakov was emes (truth) and Torah. The arsenal of klal Yisrael is Torah, and with Yaakov being at the forefront of Torah learning he became the primary target of the angel. Every day we wage war with our evil inclination (yetzer hara), and the Gemara Kiddushin quotes Hashem as saying, “I created the Torah as the antidote to the yetzer hara.” Indeed, the yetzer hara will let a Jew do all kinds of mitzvos without a problem, but gets very nervous when a Jew engages in Torah learning.
It’s worth noting the terminology the Torah uses to describe this cosmic battle. “Va’yei’aveik ish imo.” Rashi explains the root of the word va’yei’aveik—to wrestle—is avak—dust. Chazal say the dust being kicked up from their feet as they wrestled rose all the way to the throne of Hashem. How is that significant?
I read an incredible explanation from Rabbi Dani Kunstler. He said, “One day, I noticed a huge commotion on a sidewalk, and as I approached I heard the sound of police sirens. The crowd dispersed, leaving one person lying on the floor. There had been a street fight and the winner had fled with everyone else. The police arrived and arrested the losing street fighter.”
In a wrestling or boxing match, the winner is the one who is left standing and the loser is the one on the mat, who was knocked to the floor. However, Hashem views our struggle with the yetzer hara differently. It’s true that many times we struggle with our temptations or urges and end up on the floor. We feel that we lost. But there’s a lesson to be learned from the dust rising all the way to Hashem’s throne. The dust represents that deep struggle, and it is truly precious to Hashem, Who places it right before Him. Even if we end up flat on the mat, our struggle endears us to the Almighty.
But we must be in the ring!! We do so by designating time for Torah study and sticking to the schedule. This is our challenge—we must be on guard and protect our “arsenal” at all times. Our weapon—our Torah—is the greatest weapon we have against the yetzer hara.
Remember, even if we lose a struggle from time to time, every one of our struggles is precious to Hashem.