“Night” is galus. These two passages seem to indicate that just before the end of our current Exile the children of Yaakov will succeed in overcoming this malach, and that will be a prelude to the “break of dawn,” the coming of Mashiach.
Yaakov Avinu says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me,” at which point the malach informs Yaakov his name has been changed to “Yisrael” (Bereishis 32:27ff).
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What does it all mean?
I see from my own observation of life that there are three types of people. One group is so afraid of the yetzer hara that it falls completely under its domination. These people run from God, living as if He does not exist, which is exactly the yetzer hara’s goal. In their case, the yetzer hara has completely succeeded.
Rabbi Yaakov Hillel has (in a recent commentary on Pirkei Avos) brilliantly characterized the other two classes of people. Both are trying to follow the lead of our Father Yaakov. Both classes understand that, in order to live, one must battle the yetzer hara directly, but let’s try to differentiate between them.
Let’s try to imagine the Beis HaMikdosh. The “middle group” stands, so to speak, in the kodesh, the holy area between the shulchan (which represents worldly success), and the menorah (which represents spirituality). This is praiseworthy, but not the highest level.
At the highest level are those who have elevated themselves to a life completely dedicated to serving Hashem. If you think this is impossible, just look at the heroes of our people down through the ages. Look at Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid HaMelech.
Can such a person exist today? Look at the late Mirrer rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l. He began as a typical yeshiva boy in Chicago and became a legendary example of total dedication to Torah and to his beloved talmidim.
Another such person is Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who recently was hospitalized with life-threatening problems. A well-known rabbi said recently, “If Rav Elyashiv is in danger, we are all in danger.” Why? Rav Elayshiv protects all of us because he has sublimated his personal life to the life of the nation and the service of Hashem.
The point is that such a lifestyle is possible. It requires great personal dedication, but it is an aim to which we all can aspire. I say this because the challenge now before us is so great that we are called upon to go to great lengths to protect ourselves. The Haggadah tells us that in Mitzraim there were plagues within plagues: “Rabbi Eliezer said that…in Egypt the Egyptians were smitten with forty plagues, while at the Sea they were smitten with two hundred plagues,” and Rabbi Akiva says “fifty” and “two hundred fifty” respectively.
In our day also, we face plague upon plague. Perhaps, just as in ancient Egypt where the solution was a complete reevaluation of life, we need to go to the very source of our problems to uproot our troubles. We left crumbling Egypt and followed Moshe Rabbeinu to Har Sinai, where we submitted ourselves totally to the Master of the Universe. Perhaps in our own day it is appropriate to contemplate a complete cure to our malady.
In preparation for that, let us try to confront the root of our problem, the ancient conflict with the power of evil. As the Gemara tells us, “Barasi yetzer hara, barasi Torah tavlin – I created a yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as a medicine” (Kiddushin 30b).
Perhaps we can follow our Father Jacob’s example and cease to fear the yetzer hara. The ancient verse will then apply to us: “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.”
The name “Jacob” is associated with Exile.
“Yisrael” expresses our ability to overcome all challenges.
May we soon see the burst of light that will herald the Dawn of our Redemption.
Roy Neuberger’s latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim), is available in English, Hebrew and Spanish, with French and Russian editions in preparation. Roy is also the author of “From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul” (available in English, Hebrew and Russian) and “Worldstorm.”