Bereshit 32:8:

"וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ וַיַּחַץ אֶת־הָעָם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּוֹ וְאֶת־הַצֹּאן וְאֶת־הַבָּקָר וְהַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת׃"

"Jacob was greatly frightened; in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps..."

First of all, I noticed that in Hebrew it reads: vayetzer lo (ויצר לו), and I wondered, although it’s probably related to Hetzer הצר (to narrow or take in), if this distressed feeling, does his anxiety come from his Yetzer Hara?

Secondly, what exactly was this fear/anxiety of Ya’akov, hence from where did it come? I.e. What kind of fear/anxiety are we talking about? And how was it solved by wrestling the adversary and meeting Esav?

  • 1
    Did you look at Rashi? Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 8:36
  • I think that if it were to be of the root יצר it would be spelled וייצר לו. That’s not to say that יצר and צרה aren’t related - I’ll post an answer from Rav Hirsch later B”N.
    – DonielF
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 21:23
  • Distress and narrowness are related: one who is distressed feels like he is in a narrow place. Rashi makes this point several times, IIRC.
    – N.T.
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 8:26
  • Rabbi Sacks has a great answer in Not in God's Name (but probably in other places as well). If i have the time I will turn it into an answer: Yaakov took Eisav's blessing/birthright essentially for gashmiyut, which he wasn't supposed to. He realised this, and recognised that retribution was in order. If you read the text, Yaakov uses the language of appeasement and subservience. Yaakov ends up returning the blessing "take the blessing". He fights Eisav's "archangel" to discover his place for who he is, NOT yaakov, which is a relative term, but Yisrael, something beyond.
    – bondonk
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 19:14

3 Answers 3

  1. No, ויצר comes from צרה like in וְעֵת צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקֹב וּמִמֶּנָּה יִוָּשֵׁעַ (Yes 30,7). This comes from the root צרר like צורר - enemy, not יצר like ייצר - creation. One can say "צר לי" (I'm sorry) or in future "יצר לי" (I'll be sorry).
    Therefore "ויצר לו" with וו ההיפוך should be translated as the past tense "צר לו".

  2. When facing a big trouble, a person remembers one's merits and misdeeds in the hope those will help him to cope with the situation. When Yaakov heard that his brother comes to fight him, he:

    • Was afraid [he might lose as] he didn't have the merit of the 21 years (living with Lavan) of honoring his parents [and this "sin" could lead to losing to Eisov] (Targum Yonoson) ("וּדְחִיל יַעֲקב לַחֲדָא עַל דְלָא עָסַק עֶשְרִין שְׁנִין בִּיקָרָא דְאָבוֹי")

    • Was afraid to be killed or sorry to kill others (esp his brother) - Rashi

    • Trusted G-d and counted on Him that he'll overcome it, but didn't want to show himself as carefree and calm (others).

There are also many other interpretations, please see the link.


Daas Zekeinim -- Esav had said "I'll kill my brother once our father is dead." If Esav is coming at Yaakov now with an army, that means their father has most likely died; so Yaakov is afraid of Esav's attack, and distressed by the [erroneous] inference that his father has died.


An answer to your second question can be brought from HaRav Elimelech Biederman's Torah Wellsprings (Parshas Vayishlach 5782).

He first brings the Daas Zekeinim as mentioned by @Shalom. However he then goes on to add the following:

Yaakov said (32:11):

כי במקלי עברתי את הירדן הזה ועתה הייתי לשתי מחנות

"I crossed this Yarden with my staff, and now I have become two camps."

Reb Chaim Volozhiner zt'l explains that also in this pasuk Yaakov is lamenting that he lost his bitachon. ,כי במקלי עברתי את הירדן הזה Yaakov said, "I used to have bitachon, and with my firm trust in Hashem, I put my staff in the Yarden, and the waters split.1 ועתה הייתי לשתי מחנות , but now I've divided my camp into two groups, as I am afraid that Eisav might attack one of them."

The Riv'a (from the Baalei HaTosfos) teaches that Yaakov lost his protection because of his fear. Hashem promised Yaakov that he would protect him. As it states (Bereishis 28:15) ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך , "I will watch over you wherever you will go." But since Yaakov was afraid of Eisav, he lost his protection. As it states (32:26), ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו "Yaakov's thigh was dislodged when he wrestled with [the malach]."

The Riv'a adds, "This also happened to Moshe. Hashem told him, כי אהיה עמך , 'I will be with you,' yet he was injured at the hotel. This happened because he was afraid of Pharaoh, as he said, שלח נא ביד תשלח , 'Send someone else…'"2

1 The Degel Machaneh Efraim writes, "My grandfather (the Baal Shem Tov zt'l) said that he once crossed the Dnieper River without using Hashem's names. He placed his belt on the water, and he said that with immense emunah he crossed the river. This can be the translation of כי במקלי עברתי … that Yaakov crossed the Yarden with his immense emunah."

2 The Seforno explains that as long as Yaakov Avinu was thinking about Hashem, he was protected. The moment he lost focus, the malach was able to smite him on the thigh.

The Seforno writes, "Because of Yaakov's constant deveikus to Hashem in his thoughts and in his speech, the malach couldn’t harm him. But when the malach told him about the nation's future sins … ( הודיעו החטא העתיד במדריכי עמו ) this upset Yaakov, his deveikus ceased, and [that's when the angel hit him and] his thigh was dislodged…"

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