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Many times I came across teachings which stated that Ya’akov Avinu wrestled (struggled) with what could be described as something representative of Esav (I.e. Edom, Adam); of which it is said it was the Yetzer Hara (of which it’s said that it’s equal with Satan and the Malach HaMavet).

So what I would like to know is what’s the common denominator between all these titles? And secondly why was it that Ya’akov had this struggle; where did it originated from?

After so many struggles why did Ya’akov Avinu had this specific one that led to a change in his essence, a change of name? What evil evolved into something he had to overcome?

  • @mbloch thanks but those answers don’t quite explain why those reasons evolved into a battle, which according to some, represents a inner struggle with his Yetzer Hara. – Levi Sep 6 '18 at 5:00
  • Many times I came across teachings - can you source (or quote) a few - I have no idea what you're talking about. – Danny Schoemann Sep 6 '18 at 9:10
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    @DannySchoemann Bereshit Rabbah 77:3 and 78:3 for example seems to indicate this wrestler was the Sar of Esav, according to Artscroll the Malach of Esav is Satan, the Michtav m’Eliyahu states that the Malach that represented Esav was in fact the Yetzer hara. Midrash Tanchuma (Vayishlach 8) states it was Samael (see also the Kli Yakar). B.B. 16a states that the malach hamavet, Yetzer Hara and Satan are one. Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer seems to state it was a representative of Ya’akov or like The Beis HaLevi seems to state it was the Yetzer Hara within Ya’akov. – Levi Sep 6 '18 at 12:15
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    Seems like this should be added to the question. – Danny Schoemann Sep 6 '18 at 13:30
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As Levi points out in comments above, there are many interpretations of who was the wrestler against Yaakov. I want to try and offer an interpretation as to why Yaakov had to struggle and what we can learn from it. This is starting from an idea of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, much of the rest a personal interpretation. It is a bit long, treat it as a dvar Torah if you are interested.

In a nutshell I will argue that Esav/his angel/Amalek/Satan fought with Yaakov to break him, and disconnect the three worlds which Yaakov was connecting: the world of thought, the world of feelings and the world of action. Once Yaakov won the struggle, he became called Yisrael - Yashar El - the "straight of Hashem". By connecting the three, Yaakov is the role model of what a Jew should be - and Esav/Amalek/etc. fought this.


I start with Rashi (on Bereshit 32:25) who brings the midrash (Bereshit Rabba 77:3) and tells us the angel was the angel of Esav. As we know, at the end of the fight, the angel hits Yaakov at the hip and leaves.

In a second encounter between Yaakov and Esav, (Bereshit 33:4), Esav "kisses" Yaakov. Since the word וַׄיִּׄשָּׁׄקֵ֑ׄהׄוּׄ is written in the Torah with six dots, our Sages tell us (Bereshit Rabba 78:12) not to read the word from kiss (lenashek) but from bite (linshokh). The Midrash tells us Esav wanted to bite Yaakov at the neck - but by miracle Yaakov’s neck turned into marble - therefore וַיִּבְכּֽוּ Esav wept as he broke his teeth.

Why did Esav or his angel attack Yaakov and hit him at the neck and at the hip? Why especially at these places, why not in the head and in the stomach?

I find a hint to these elements earlier in the parasha when Yaakov prepared for his encounter with Esav. Rashi (32:9) tells us Yaakov prepared through gifts, prayer and war. Prayer (avoda she balev) from the heart (the world of feelings), gifts from his head (the world of thinking) and war through his legs (the world of action).

This is the way of Yaakov. He feels, he thinks and he acts. Not just that but all three are connected with each other and with Hashem. As the passuk says

וַיֹּאמֶר֮ יַעֲקֹב֒ אֱלֹהֵי֙ אָבִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם וֵאלֹהֵ֖י אָבִ֣י יִצְחָ֑ק יְהוָ֞ה הָאֹמֵ֣ר אֵלַ֗י שׁ֧וּב לְאַרְצְךָ֛ וּלְמוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וְאֵיטִ֥יבָה עִמָּֽךְ׃

Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your native land and I will deal bountifully with you’!

Yaakov connects his actions to the mission Hashem gave him. You Hashem asked me to return to my land, the land of Israel. I am now here facing a challenge . So help me, show me the way and I will do three things: with my heart, with my head and with my feet.

Yaakov was an ish yashar - Hashem intentions for man flowed through his mind , his heart and his legs. Maybe for this reason we call Sefer Bereshit - Sefer Hayashar.

What was the new name of Yaakov after these encounters? Yisrael = Yashar El - the one who is straight with God.

Now we understand better why Esav attacked Yaakov in this particular way

  • first the angel of Esav hit him at the hip to separate the world of feelings from the world of action
  • second Esav’s bit him at the neck to separate the world of thinking from the world of feelings

Whether Esav is Amalek or the the Yetser Hara in all of us (see Kli Yakar Bereishit 32:25), he is trying to disconnect us from our father in Heaven. The one who tells us

  • you know enough, there is no need for mitsvot
  • you are a good person, you have good intentions, there is no need for mitsvot
  • you are doing good already, you know enough, there is no need to learn more

Esav tries to disconnect our thinking from our feelings from our actions.

And Yaakov is showing us what it is to be a "straight Jew". Someone who is connected to Hashem at all times and someone who aligns all his thoughts, feelings and actions with Hashem’s will. Someone who is a channel to bring the will of Hashem into the world.

Why did all of this happen to Yaakov? Why didn’t he fight Avraham or Yitzhak? R Elchonon Wasserman tells us something brilliant. What did Abraham represent? Hesed. Yitzhak? Yira or Tfila. Yaakov? Torah.

That is why the yetezer hara chased Yaakov. It isn’t that Hesed and Tefila aren’t important, but other people have them as well. But it is the Torah which separates us from other nations. It is the Torah, or Halakha, that translates the will of Hashem into the actions of Man. Halakha (from lalekhet, to go) is the world of action/of our feet as a translation from the will of Hashem into the world.

Now how does Yaakov’s story ends (33:18) ?

וַיָּבֹא֩ יַעֲקֹ֨ב שָׁלֵ֜ם

Yaakov came out intact

Intact, that is straight. Yaakov held his way and from this he gave all of us (maase avot siman lebanim) the potential to be like him, to connect our minds, our hearts and our actions to Hashem, do the things which are right as the verse in Dvarim (6:18) tells us

וְעָשִׂ֛יתָ הַיָּשָׁ֥ר וְהַטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה

Do what is right (straight) and good in the sight of the LORD

  • learned some new stuff from this comment, thank you, not totally what I was searching for, but still a lovely addition to understand this story better. I'm really interesting in the part that you used about the thoughts, feelings, actions. Could you point me to any sources which make this connection to Ya'akov? – Levi Sep 6 '18 at 19:52
  • The first time I saw this was in a sicha of the Lubbavitcher Rebbe who mentions the connection between the world of thinking and the world of feeling or action (I don't recall - was a long time ago) and how Esav wanted to sever that connection by biting Yaakov at the neck. The rest is my own proposed interpretation based on Rashi in 32:9 – mbloch Sep 7 '18 at 6:49

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