In this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, Yaakov and his brother Eisav, finally meet again after 20 years. But before the actual physical meeting between them, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious spiritual figure. Some of our sages interpret this meeting to embody a spiritual battle between their two world views and the battle between good and evil.
Sivan Rahav Meir interprets this encounter beautifully:
“Evil arrives and puts up a struggle, but is forced to slink away with the morning light and also to give a blessing with a new name. This struggle is difficult but we survive it and even thrive within it, receiving a new name and a new essence in the process. We are injured and limping but we survive.
Notice that Yaakov’s name change comes from an evil force. Evil, in all its honor and power and glory, is forced to admit that we are Yisrael, with the straightforwardness that being blessed with this name implies, that we walk in a straight path with Hashem.”
But to merit this elevated status, we must remain committed to the struggle against evil; and there is always a struggle.
“And who or what is this evil exactly? He has no permanent name (“Why is it that you ask for my name?″): sometimes evil is sadness, sometimes depression, sometimes lust, sometimes pride, and sometimes anger. Each time it has a different name. The evil inclination changes its disguise time and again.”
But we must remain focused and committed.
Jacob employs a three pronged approach to battle his demons and enemy. He prepares spiritually- by humbling himself (see Bereshit 32:10-12) and invoking divine assistance. He seems peace by bringing gifts for Eisav and calling him my master (Bereshit 32:4-6). Finally, he prepares for war but also takes defensive measures to minimize damage in case he fails (Bereshit 32:8-9, essentially a plan b).
We can derive practical lessons from this in our struggles. First we need to remain humble and ask God to help us while simultaneously doing our due diligence to plan, prepare and take appropriate action. It is key to know when to engage in conflict but also went to try to seek peace. And finally, we must recognize that not everything is in our hands so we even prepare to fail enabling us to lose the battle but eventually win the war.
We are promised, as the name Israel signifies, that if we remain in the struggle we will indeed be victorious.