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I discussed with someone recently the incident in Bereshis where Ya'akov wrestles with an angel. It quickly became clear that our understanding of that story was completely different as far as what the angel was, what it signified, and overall, what was happening.

He said:

  • The angel was Esau's angel. He did not specify what exactly this meant, but my guess is that this would be Esau's guardian angel whom Esau sent to kill Ya'akov.
  • The two of them literally wrestled all night and the angel was actively trying to kill Ya'akov.
  • The angel was sent out of revenge by Esau for stealing the birthright.
  • The blessing was not given willingly.
  • The hip injury was exactly what it appears to be.

I said:

  • The angel was Ya'akov's yetzer ha-ra, given human/angelic form.
  • The wrestling was a spiritual fight. Ya'akov was in no physical/mortal danger per se.
  • The angel was a literal angel, but also Ya'akov's guilt for cheating his brother out of the birthright and his evil inclinations, because he on some level felt what he did was wrong. The fight was thus a fight against himself more than an external battle.
  • The blessing/rebirth was Ya'akov "maturing" in a sense, becoming a full tzaddik by overcoming his yetzer ha-ra and directing it towards good rather than evil.
  • The hip injury is a metaphor for how fighting our inner urges can cause lasting damage but ultimately makes us stronger/better people, as it did for Ya'akov.

Neither of us had direct sources to cite for what we had heard, other than "my rabbi". With this in mind: Are there reasons to take one conclusion over the other? Are they simply different interpretations or levels of Torah and are both correct? I see here that there exists at least one more interpretation, that being that the angel was Gavriel. This isn't directly part of my question, but still relevant insofar as it further muddies the waters by being a third party unconnected to Esau and Ya'akov's yetzer ha-ra.

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  • Very interesting stuff and both good arguments. I personally never heard the latter one and am more inclined to believe the first one because if the wound was metaphorical, why is it Halacha that we can’t eat the Gid Hanasheh? Who cares if all it is is metaphorical? Also I mean the Torah pshat says a literal ish came and fought yaakov, so I’d rather interpret it somewhere along these lines because when you get to symbolic Torah things become iffy. But I like your reading of the story on a deeper level Feb 2, 2023 at 23:59
  • @CuriousYid I agree. When I was a child, I always found this passage very strange. The pshat is that he was randomly accosted by a random man, and wrestled with him all night, and then asked him for a bracha. It begs to be expounded!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 3, 2023 at 10:11

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-The Rambam said it was a dream, “a prophetic vision”. [Guide for the Perplexed 2 42:2]

-Abravanel strongly disagrees: Why would Jacob limp after a dream?

-The Torah says: “Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him”. If he was “alone”, he was then wrestling with himself -- repenting in a fight between his good and evil inclinations. The latter is most powerful at night, time of the incident. [Zohar 1:170b]

-The prophet Hosea describes the assailant as an angel. [Hosea 12:4]

-The Midrash says it was Esau's guardian angel, Samael. [Genesis Rabbah 77:3, Yalkut Shimoni 1:110, Zohar Bereshit 170a]

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  • The last point clears up another part of the question, was it the yeitzer hara or Esav's angel? Yes. [Job ch.1, Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer ch.46]
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 3, 2023 at 1:46
  • Are there any sources that show how/why the yezer hara is stronger at night?
    – Eak2449
    Feb 3, 2023 at 12:51
  • I gave one: the Zohar. Feb 3, 2023 at 13:36
  • @MauriceMizrahi You gave a source that said that the yetzer ha-ra is stronger at night, but not how or why.
    – Benyamin
    Feb 3, 2023 at 15:17

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