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I am an Italian noahide.

I read the following words written by an Italian Orthodox Jew about the figure of one who fights with Jacob in Genesis 32: 25-31

This figure is defined by the tradition "Sar Essav", "minister, representative of Essav". There is therefore nothing in the text that can make one think of a spiritual figure, arbitrarily translated as an "angel". The "SAR" is, modernly, the minister. In this case he is a border guard, someone appointed by Esav to protect the passage of the Yabbok and who engages with Yaacov a hand-to-hand fight, as it imposes a resistance to the attempt of these to return from head to Israel, to reaffirm the his command. There is nothing mystical about all this, but only a real war of hegemony.

29 And he said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with rulers and high-ranking people, and you have won'. "

Many translations report "Why did you fight with God and with men and you won", but this is not the meaning, as in the biblical language "Elohim" means "rulers, legislators" and is "also" used to indicate God. The same Rashì specifies that in this case the term is not "kodesh", that is it is not sacred, it is not related to HaShem.

The same goes for the term "anashim" which literally means "men", but which in the biblical language indicates "high-ranking people", "prominent persons" (in the same way as the three "anashim" who present themselves at Avraham) Yaacov struggled with rulers and high-ranking people (Elohim and Anashim): that is, with Essav and with Lavan (traditionally considered the chief and the most powerful of all those who practiced the magical arts) and won. Yaacov's name will now be "Israel" "Ki sarita im elohim", "Because you dominated the rulers" ("Israel" has the same root as "sarita").

Now, I have read several Jewish interpretations of the event, and all linked to the idea of "theophanic" nature, although according to different conceptions, but I have never heard of an exclusively "human" interpretation of this fighter.

I would add that in all the translations of Jewish origin that I consulted, in Italian, English and Ancient Greek, the term "Elohim" in this passage is translated as "God" or "angel of God", and so also in the authoritative Targum Onkelos.

We also read in Hosea 12,3-5:

Now YH** has a contention with Judah, and to visit upon Jacob according to his ways; according to his deeds He shall recompense him. In the womb, he seized his brother's heel, and with his strength he strove with Elohim; He strove with an malach and prevailed.

Do you know specific Jewish sources to support this thesis?

I asked this gentleman, but I had no answer.

Thank you

  • A potentially stupid question comes to mind - why would a border guard or chief assistant or whoever(anyone besides a king, I guess) have the right or power to rename somebody, especially effecting such a significant name change, and extra-especially after refusing to give Jacob his own name/rank/title? Also. making a kashrut law in effect forever because a normal human hurt him in that spot? Sounds kinda odd... – Gary Dec 1 '18 at 15:52
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    Could you give some more information on the source of the words from the Italian Jew? – b a Dec 1 '18 at 16:05
  • @ b a @Gary Even to me it seems a rather strange interpretation, I asked this man sources, but he did not answer. – Amos74 Dec 1 '18 at 16:24
  • Rashi does not say that it was a man, but an actual mal'ach as he says Our Rabbis explained (Gen. Rabbah 77:3, 78:3) that this was the prince (guardian angel) of Esau. Thus, the term elohim would mean powers meaning the powers of the (spiritual) world. – sabbahillel Dec 2 '18 at 3:32
  • @sabbahillel Also I read what Rashi writes;in fact I do not understand the origin of this "uman" interpretation. – Amos74 Dec 2 '18 at 14:00

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