“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn… he struck the socket of Yaakov’s hip …” (Bereishis 32:25-26)
Who was this “man” who fought all night with Yaakov Avinu and only capitulated at the break of dawn, dislocating Yaakov’s hip-socket as he wrestled with him? Rashi states that it was the angel of Eisav, or the koach hatumah (ruler of impurity). Our sages cite R’ Yehoshua ben Levi (Chulin 91a) that the encounter was so intense that the dust from their feet ascended to the Throne of Glory.
The commentaries expound that various details of the Torah’s account allude to the exile, and the confrontation represents the spiritual struggle between the powers of holiness and the powers of ritual impurity that will continue throughout the generations until the “break of dawn,” i.e. ad bias goel tzedek – until the arrival of the redeemer.
The Chofetz Chaim asks: Why did the koach hatumah wait to attack Yaakov? Why didn’t he confront Avraham or Yitzchak? The Chofetz Chaim explains that each of the forefathers had a unique personal characteristic representing the three pillars of the world. Avraham Avinu symbolized chesed, loving kindness, benevolence, and charity. Yitzchak symbolized prayer, devotion, and service of Hashem. Yaakov was the pillar of Torah.
Although the koach hatumah, which is really the evil inclination, opposes the principles of chesed and service of Hashem, he can condone their practice. They are unlike Torah, which is eternal and guarantees the survival of the Jewish nation. The evil inclination cannot endure in the face of the ultimate truth of Torah, as it says (Micha 7:20), “You will give the truth to Yaakov …” The Torah is our defense against the evil inclination, as it says (Kiddushin 30b), “I created the evil inclination and I created Torah as its antidote.” It is for that reason that throughout the generations our adversaries have waged war against the Torah. The Greeks had one goal, as we say in al hanissim on Chanukah, “l’hashkicham Torasecha – to make them [the Jewish nation] forget your Torah….” In Spain, in Eastern Europe, in countries around the world decrees were issued to repress Torah study. Cognizant of the immortality of the Torah and its extraordinary effectiveness, the evil inclination is vigilant in its battle to thwart Torah study.
The Baal Shem Tov once remarked that one can assess the value of a person’s possessions by observing how many thieves are out to rob him. If a person is merely carrying bundles of clothes very few will be scheming to rob him. However, if the individual is carrying a priceless diamond all the thieves will be after him.
Indeed, the fact that we are confronted with so many challenges in the area of chinuch, Torah education, illustrates how precious Torah study is. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) teaches that the first 2,000 years of creation were “years of chaos” until the Torah was given. The purpose of the existence of those generations was solely in preparation for the event of Kabbalas haTorah.
An interesting halachic query was presented to the great posek, HaGaon Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. A man who faithfully and consistently attended a daily shiur on the Talmud after davening shacharis with the morning minyan, was faced with a dilemma a few days during the year. On those infrequent days, when his company was audited by the government, he was obligated to be in his office early in the morning. He had to choose between praying with a minyan on those days and missing his shiur, or attending the shiur and praying in private – both important mitzvos.
R’ Elyashiv instructed him that if these were only sporadic occasions throughout the year, then he should rather attend his daily Talmud shiur and opt to daven b’yechidus (in private).
The Talmud tells us (Shabbos 88a) that at the time of Kabbalas haTorah Hashem placed the mountain above the Jewish nation like a vat and said to them: “If you will accept the Torah good; if not, there will be your burial place.” The Jews had already willingly accepted the Torah when they proclaimed naaaseh v’nishma – we will do and we will listen. What is the meaning of this warning? The Gerer Rebbe explains that the key word is “there.” Hashem was cautioning them that “there” – in later generations – there would be dark days, times when circumstances would make it difficult to keep the Torah. But, the flame of Torah needs to be kept alive under all conditions, even under the threat of death.
Amid the tragedy and unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, accountings of many poignant incidents have emerged.
At 3:00 one frigid snowy winter morning, the sirens blared in the camp. All the prisoners were ordered to remove their clothing to be checked for lice as they stood outside in the frosty cold. Many did not survive the hours-long ordeal. When they were finally granted permission to return to the barracks, not only had their clothing been removed, but also the straw and the few thin blankets with which they covered themselves were gone. Yet after this exhausting suffering, the inmates could not lie down on the cold boards to sleep, for fear that they would surely not wake up.
As the men huddled in groups to keep each other warm, one of the inmates called out with a suggestion. “I would like to make you an offer. You don’t have to accept it, but if you do I will be very happy.”
He explained that he knew one tractate of the Shas by heart, and each day he would review it as he lay in bed. “I will learn the daf of today out loud from memory, and you can all join in the learning with me.”
The men all agreed, and so, under the most inhumane conditions, without clothes and numbed from the penetrating cold, everyone became completely immersed in learning. It helped them to survive that bitter night and gave them hope for the future.