Parshas Vayishlach - Who is your current enemy?

A client, who I had not seen in about 4 years recently called me to schedule another session. The client originally came to me because he was having relationship issues that we had resolved in therapy. On the phone I asked him why he would like to see me. He responded, “Dr. Lasson, you know my life story. Just some more drama.” I asked him “but why are you coming to see me NOW?” He went on to tell me about a current issue he was having with a co-worker. He was now battling a different issue.

When we go to battle, we usually know who we are fighting against. But what happens when we go to war against an unnamed foe? In the news we often hear people talk about the war on drugs or the war on poverty. How can you go to war against an unknown or inanimate enemy? We are not having a war against drugs or poverty. We are having difficulty with a system that has created a problem. People are behind systems so often we have to identify those who got us to this bad place. But how do we identify them?

There are other times when we are battling other unknown battles because they are internal. A person’s ego can be the biggest internal demon that we must battle. The problem is that not all of us are aware of these demons until they are identified by others. The other issue is our defenses begin to play with us as we say, who are you to criticize me? You’re calling ME a narcissist?

In our Parsha, Yaakov Avinu battles an unknown enemy who we know was an angel. He asks for his name and the angel, posing as the enemy, says, “why do you want to know my name?”The whole dialogue seems very strange. Yaakov is unsure who this angel is. Some say he was a heathen and others say he was a Torah scholar. There are many interpretations of the angel’s identity,that Yaakov was fighting. How can this be? Maybe this was the reason for why this dialogue was so strange and difficult to follow. Yaakov simply didn’t know who he was fighting.

What makes this dialogue more troubling is that during the wrestling match, Yaakov was defeating the angel and had him down for the count. He demands that the angel give him a blessing. If he was able to demand a blessing from the angel, why couldn’t he demand that the angel tell him his name? When you have someone in a proverbial chokehold, you can demand anything from your opponent. You got the advantage. Yet we see that Yaakov asks:

הגידה נא שמך Please tell me your name.

The אור החיים הקדוש tells us something profound. During the whole exchange, Yaakov truly didn’t know the name of his opponent. When he says please, the word נא is used. נא can either mean please or now. What Yaakov understood was that angels can have different names depending on their mission. When Yaakov was asking “what is your name,” he wasn’t in a demanding mode. He was simply asking what is your name…now? Because I know it might change. So I want to know your name as it is now— for this particular mission that you have been sent.

A poet by the name of Louise Erskine once said “the demons don’t chase you because you’re weak. They chase you because nothing scares them more than an angel that can still rise with broken wings.”

Yaakov held the angel in his wrestling match. The angel gave a defensive response when asked his name because he didn’t want to share the nature of his mission because his mission could change at any time—and so would his name. However, when the angel asked Yaakov his name, he answers the only name he had at the time. The true reason why the angel asked Yaakov his name was to set him up to be called Yisroel.

As Jews we are called Bnei Yisroel. A name that shows we are striving to be Yashar to Hashem as the name Yisroel indicates. Yaakov wasShalem-complete. As we learned in the Daf this week-יעקב אבינו לא מת-Yaakov never died.What does that mean that Yaakov never died? He was buried, eulogized and embalmed! I was thinking that this Gemara could be read יעקב אבינו לאמת-Yaakov our father stood for truth. Truth can never die. Truth prevails. אמת can also be a contraction of two words-  אי מת-“It cannot die”, according to my Rosh Yeshiva-Harav Zweig.

The word Shalem indicates that we do not need to change with changing times to remain complete. The Shin is for Shem (name), the Lamed is for Lashon (language) and the Mem is for Malbush (clothing). We don’t change our names, language, or the way we dress. That is our identity. When we succeed at battling our current enemy, we can succeed at finding our identity—that we are truly Bnei Yisroel and that is our only mission.



  • Bereishis 32:30
  • Taanis 5b

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