Everyone knows the crucial scene in the parsha, where Yaacov is attacked in the middle of the night by the sar – the angel – of Esav. The symbolism inherent in his victory is obvious, especially after the angel informs him that subsequently Hashem will change his name to Yisroel: he who struggled with and dominated angels. But did you know this wasn’t the first time that Yaacov battled angels?
Back in the beginning of Parshas Vayeitzei we have the famous vision of the angels ascending and descending on Har HaMoriah. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Rashi, but did you know there’s another explanation as to why the malachim ascended and then descended? The Midrash says that the angels that went up were the same ones that came down. They rose up and looked at the Kisei HaKavod – Hashem’s Throne of Glory – and saw the face of Yaacov inscribed on one of the legs. Then they descended back to Earth and saw the face of Yaacov. The angels immediately threatened to harm him “vaHashem nitzav alav,” but HaKadosh Boruch Hu protected him.
Is there a connection between the two incidents? What were the angels trying to do to Yaacov? How could they meaningfully attack him?
Rav Gedalia Schorr zt”l, the late Mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, explains the issue with incredible depth. Rashi on the pasuk (32:25) “Vaye’aveik ish imo, and a man wrestled with him,” quotes the Gemara Chullin 91a, which explains that the root of the word Vya’aveik is avak, dust. The dust of their feet rose all the way up to the Throne of Glory. What is the significance of the dust rising all the way to the Throne of Glory?
The nature of dust is that it blurs one’s vision. As we noted, the face of Yaacov was inscribed on one of the legs of the Kisei HaKavod. The angels wanted to block Yaacov – who, at the time, was poor, pursued, running from the home of a tzaddik and heading to live with a rasha – from seeing what he could and should be, the founder of a great, holy nation. (I cannot explain here why they wanted to do this.) The deep meaning of Yaacov’s vision was that Hashem was guaranteeing His help; He will protect Yaacov and help him not lose sight of his potential, his destiny. This is the meaning of “va’Hashem nitzov aluv, Hashem was standing guard over him.”
In our parsha it was the angel of Esav that was trying to blur Yaacov Avinu’s vision of what he looked like, what his true potential was. If the angel could warp or dull Yaacov’s perception of how great he was, from where he came and how high he could reach, it would mean an absolute victory for Esav!
Rabbi Spero, in Touched by A Story 2, illustrates the power of keeping your potential in mind with the following story. Boruch Hirschberg, a 17-year-old young man, was a top-notch yeshiva bachur and well-liked by his peers. He was very dedicated to his learning and was at the top of his class. Sadly, he was nearing the end of his battle with cancer. He called in his father and told him, “I know my time is near and I’ve decided who I want to eulogize me at my funeral. Remember my second grade rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Morgenstern? I only want him to eulogize me; please do not allow anyone else besides for family.”
His father agreed, but, gently, so as not to upset his son, he asked, “Why only your second grade rebbe? You had many other great rabbeim over the years, especially ones very recently. Why go all the way back to second grade?”
“Because I owe all my success to him,” replied Boruch.
“Let me explain. One day, when I was in second grade, Rabbi Morgenstern walks in with a big smile. He hands out a piece of paper to each of us with all the names of the boys in the class and asked us to write down next to each name a special quality that boy has. When we finished rebbe collected the papers. The next day rebbe handed each of us a paper with all the list of qualities that the boys in the class had said about us. I never felt so good about myself! Wow, Yanky really thinks I’m smart and Shloimy says I’m a good ball player, etc. From that point on I had a new self-confidence; I realized what I could be.”