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S.A.L.T. - Wednesday

Rav David Silverberg

          Among the many episodes related in Parashat Vayishlach is Yaakov Avinu's nighttime wrestle with the angel, identified by Chazal as the angel of Esav.  The Gemara in Chullin 91a cites two opinions as to how this mysterious being appeared to Yaakov: either as an idolater or a Torah scholar.  What does this mean?

         One explanation is cited in the name of the Avnei Nezer (by his son, in "Haggadah Shem Mi-Shmuel").  He views Yaakov's assailant as representative of the yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination).  The two disguises mentioned in the Gemara correspond to the two primary tactics employed by the evil inclination that works within each and every one of us. The more straightforward confrontation occurs by the yetzer ha-ra that appears to us in the form of an idolater. Like Adam and Eve long ago, we are often tempted by that which we know is forbidden and religiously foreign.  The shrewder strategy of the evil inclination is its disguise as a Torah scholar. Knowingly or otherwise, we so often delude ourselves into turning the forbidden into laudable conduct; we confuse the contemptible with the praiseworthy.  This is the second form of struggle that we, the descendants of Yaakov, confront on a daily basis.

         The Pardes Yossef suggests another interpretation of the Gemara. He suggests that the two masks worn by the angel represents the two methods our enemies employ in their campaign to destroy us: the sword and the intellect.  The disguise of the idolater symbolizes the oppression Yaakov and his offspring had suffered at the hands of the pagan world.  The image of the scholar points to a different type of warfare: the battle of the minds.  Enemies of the Jews have frequently attempted to undermine our commitment to our faith through rational argumentation and debate.  As the prophet Yeshayahu tells us, neither approach will succeed in destroying the Jewish people: "No weapon formed against you shall succeed, and every tongue that contends with you at law you shall defeat" (54:17).



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