Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Yaakov's Heavenly Wrestling Match
Published: Wednesday, November 26, 2014 01:39:15 PM
Number of views: 2515

Could Yaakov's wrestling with a mysterious angel have been the beginning of a process of Teshuvah for having taken the blessings of his brother Eisav?

Rambam states that an essential element of Teshuvah is acknowledgement of the wrongdoing and a deep sense of regret and shame for the sin. The mysterious angel who wrestled with Yaakov may have been Yaakov himself – his inner conscience. He may have asked himself, "What is my name?" (Bereshis 32:28). In other words, Yaakov asked himself "Who am I really?" In declaring that his true identity was Yaakov, which means deception, Yaakov was acknowledging that he had taken the blessings of Eisav wrongfully.

As the narrative in Bereshis 32 unfolds, Yaakov is told that he will be given another name – YISRAEL. The name YISRAEL contains the root Yud-Shin-Reish which means "straight and upright". Yaakov has transformed himself into YISRAEL, one who has resolved to be straight and upright with his brother, Eisav.

Thus, Yaakov calls the name of the place where his struggle with the angel occurred, PENIEL, meaning, "The Face of G-d" (Bereshis 32:31). In calling the name PENIEL, Yaakov was resolving to openly face others as he openly saw G-d. There Yaakov decided to become more open and honest with his sibling. Nechama Leibowitz explains that this struggle with the angel is part of Yaakov's Teshuvah. She notes that the angel, at this point, merely announces that Yaakov would eventually be given another name. Yaakov's name was not changed right there. This is because before full Teshuvah takes place, sins committed against one's fellow man require asking forgiveness of the aggrieved party.

Before Yaakov could be given the additional name, YISRAEL, he had to ask forgiveness of his brother, whom he had wronged. In the words of Nechamah Leibowitz, "Only after he had said to Eisav, 'Take please my blessing…' (Bereshis 33:11), and after his brother had accepted the blessing, could G-d reveal Himself to Yaakov and announce the fulfillment of the promise of his new name, made by the angel."

All of us have made plenty of mistakes and misdeeds, and Teshuvah is G-d's Loving and Precious Gift to us, allowing us to right our wrongs. Teshuvah is a complex psychological process, and Yaakov Avinu shows us the way it is done. As the Ramban states, "Maaseh Avot Siman L'Banim" The deeds of our Patriarchs are a sign and example for us how to behave properly and correct our mistakes.

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