Wrestling Club

In VaYishlach, this week’s Torah portion, Yakov is preparing to meet and reconcile with his estranged brother Esav. Here we read about the mysterious encounter between Yakov and the angel. There we read:

And Yakov 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, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Yakov’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him. And he said: ‘Let me go, for the day breaks.’ And he said: ‘I will not let go of you until you bless me.’  And he said unto him: ‘What is your name?’ And he said: ‘Yakov.’ And he said: ‘Your name shall be called no more Yakov, but Yisrael; for you hast striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ And Yakov asked him, and said: ‘Tell me, I pray of you, your name.’ And he said: ‘Wherefore is it that you do ask after my name?’ And he blessed him there. (Genesis 32:25-30)

Who did Yakov really fight, man or angel, or was it perhaps a dream in which he found himself in a struggle with phantom demons? This is interesting disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban. Did this wrestling constitute an external event or an inner prophetic experience through the medium of a dream? It is understandable that after a profound experience one would question the reality of that experience. In another way it is interesting to think that Yakov internalized the character of Esav.
I was thinking about this question of internalizing the other when reflecting on the relationship between Rabbi Meir and his master Acher, Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuyah. While Acher, literally “the other”, became an apostate, his student Rabbi Meir went on to be a very important Rabbi and a central figure to the Mishana.. There we read:
Our Rabbis taught: Once Acher was riding on a horse on Shabbat, and Rabbi Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah from his mouth. Said [Acher] to him: Meir, turn back, for I have already measured by the paces of my horse that thus far extends the Sabbath limit, He replied: You, too, go back! [Acher] answered: Have I not already told you that I have already heard from behind the Veil: ‘Return all you backsliding children’ — except Acher. ( Hagiga 15a)
It is prohibited to ride on a horse on Shabbat and it is prohibited to walk beyond a certain distance. Rabbi Meir left the comfort of the house of study to learn from his master even though his master had gone off the derech, the path of Jewish law. Is Acher real or just an internalized character in Rabbi Meir’s life? This story like the story of Yakov and the angel make me wonder how we internalize the traits of our opponents. Maybe this Esav character is now actually part of Yakov in the same way that Acher is now actually part of Rabbi Meir. How else would we have learned about this interchange between Rabbi Meir and Acher if it was not reported to us by Rabbi Meir. The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.
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2 Responses to “Wrestling Club”


  1. 1 Frydman, Adina November 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Nice piece

    Cantor Adina Frydman, Executive Director
    SYNERGY: UJA-Federation of NY and Synagogues Together
    frydmana@ujafedny.org

    Please excuse any typos. This e-mail was sent through a mobile device.

  2. 2 Felix November 15, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Perhaps Yakov wrestled against his better nature, his higher self?

    I like your reading of the story about R Acher. My thought had been that perhaps Acher was mistaken about the source of the voice.


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