Wednesday, December 14, 2005


We live in a world where it seems nothing is sacred anymore. Some call it pragmatism, but it actually comes from selfishness. It seems as if people only care about themselves.

We see the fruits of this mindset all around us. Too many people seek to advance their own careers and agendas with no regard for what is right. People try to gauge which side will win and then line up on that side of the fence.

As soon as they sense a shift in public opinion, their allegiance does a turnabout. People trade their ideals and commitments in order to not be left standing alone or on a losing team.

In Israel, Prime Minister Sharon, elected on a right-wing platform whose views he espoused his entire life, decided that he wanted to be remembered as a peacemaker. His autobiography, “Warrior,” was suddenly irrelevant to today’s reality. When he realized that the Likud would not willingly support his new world view, he deserted the party he had helped create and build up, and founded a new party, Kadima.

The new party will solve all of Israel’s problems, he says. It will combine the best of the right and the left while remaining somewhere in the center. It will guarantee security for the beleaguered country while it undertakes more unilateral moves. Holding up the Gaza deal as an example of what he can accomplish, Sharon promises to do the same for the West Bank.

With the support of a compliant media and with brilliant strategic moves previously displayed on battlefields, Sharon continues to gain ground. As his poll numbers continue to rise, more and more career politicians join Kadima.

Shimon Peres, who spent his life in Labor, was so upset that he lost the election for Labor party chairman that he joined Kadima. After promising that he wouldn’t leave what had been his home for over 60 years, his ego got the better of him. He held a press conference announcing that the most suitable person to lead Israel is Ariel Sharon. Then he promptly jumped ship and signed up with Kadima.

And so it has gone. Politicians, who for decades seemed to be guided by deeply held convictions, are suddenly abandoning those principles, switching sides to join the party currently predicted to win the upcoming election.

The Likud chairman saw the light and moved over. In addition, Shaul Mofaz, the current Defense Minister and until Sunday a candidate for the Likud top job, decided that over the past three weeks he has come to the conclusion that the Likud was a party of radicals. He was lagging way behind at fourth place in the polls for Likud leader.

One day, he said, “Kadima represents too many opinions coming from different directions,” and that he doesn’t think Kadima “will show the proper determination to stand up for Israel’s critical needs.”

Just two days later, however, he himself joined Kadima. In fact, the day before he did so, he informed people that he would not be joining Sharon. He explained that politicians who switch parties “show a lack of stability and a lack of leadership.”

That did not deter him from following their example when he saw which way the wind was blowing.

We realize how flawed this behavior is by comparing it with the lessons provided in Parshas Vayishlach. In this parsha, we are impressed with the fact that Jews are a nation that stands alone. When it comes to right and wrong, we are a people who refuse to submit to the pressure of public opinion and the temptations of power and wealth.

The posuk states, “Vayivaseir Yaakov levado vaye’oveik ish imo ahd alos hashachar - And Yaakov stood alone and a man wrestled with him until morning.”

Rashi explains that it was the angel of Eisav who came to do battle with Yaakov and fought him until dawn. The Rishonim explain that this episode depicts the future saga of the Jews in the exile; wherever we go, Eisav’s emissaries will be there to fight us until the dawn of the redemption.

This may be why, in this instance, the Torah uses the word “ish” to describe the malach. To Yaakov the emissary was an angel, but the children of Yaakov are faced by an “ish” of flesh and blood who torments us and seeks to destroy us.

This is the way it will be until the coming of Moshiach. As long as we are “levado,” the power of our enemies to hurt us will be limited. As long as we resist the lure of foreign cultures, as long as we turn away from the temptation to bend our principles in order to be popular, our wounds may be painful but they will not be mortal.

However, if ever we veer from the proper path of Torah and mitzvos and seek to blend in with all the others nations, then the eternal enemy, the “ish,” can do serious harm.

The “ish” saw that he couldn’t overcome Yaakov so he hurt him in a less critical area - the gid hanashe. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the reason we don’t eat the gid hanashe is to remind us of this lesson.

As sunrise approached, the malach wanted to leave, but Yaakov did not permit him to go without first receiving a blessing from him. The malach asked him for his name and when he responded “Yaakov,” the malach told him, “Your name will be Yisroel for you fought with the Divine and with man, and you won.”

In return, Yaakov asked him for his name, to which the malach responded, “Why do you inquire of my name?” The posuk relates that he blessed Yaakov and left.

The name Yisroel is the eternal name of Yaakov. It is used in reference to matters that are universal and affect Klal Yisroel for all time; Yaakov is used in reference to occurrences which took place in his time. Perhaps by telling him that his name will be changed to Yisroel, the malach was implying that encounters with bitter adversaries will face the children of Yaakov, the Bnei Yisroel, for all time.

Not only did Yaakov have to battle the “ish” of Eisav, but forever after, the Bnei Yisroel will have to fight him off.

“Mah shemecha? Vayomer, Yaakov.” As long as we follow the path of Yaakov we will be victorious.

Among the reasons cited to explain why the malach refused to give his name, perhaps it is meant to signify that it is not one “ish” who will torment us, but rather countless people in countless guises who will be seeking our annihilation throughout the generations.

Your children should not be looking for someone who fits a particular profile, the malach was teaching Yaakov. They must remain vigilant throughout the ages, ready to cross swords with anyone who seeks to do them spiritual or physical harm, as I sought to do to you. It is not the name which defines this “ish”, it is his mission. And that mission remains constant even as it changes names and places.

Rashi quotes the Medrash and Gemorah which state that the malach was in a rush to return to Heaven to say shira. It is commonly understood that it was this malach’s turn to say shira that day and he didn’t want to miss his opportunity.

If this was the malach’s only chance to say shira, why was he given the job of wrestling with Yaakov the night before? Hashem had to know the way it would end and that the malach would barely make it back in time to sing the praises of the Almighty.

It may be that the malach was rushing back to say shira about Yaakov. His mission was to destroy the person whose name is inscribed on the kisei hakavod, but Yaakov, a mortal human being, was able to overcome him. Yaakov’s ability to triumph over a force whose strength was Divine was a dramatic testament to the special power granted those who are loyal to G-d’s word.

Is such an accomplishment not deserving of shira?

It was an extraordinary occurrence for a malach to come up against someone with the fortitude of Yaakov who could withstand the power of an angel. He wanted to rush back to take advantage of the opportunity to praise him.

In the meanwhile, Yaakov showed us the way to overcome the malach of Eisav who constantly attempts to best us.

Let us remember that the test of greatness is not in being on the side that wins the popularity contest. Virtue cannot be measured in a public opinion poll. If we want to be people upon whom shira, praise, can be recited, we often have to remain unpopular and isolated as Yaakov Avinu was on that lonely night at the Yaabok Pass, when he was confronted by the “ish.”

That “ish” is always just around the bend waiting to bait and trip us. May we all merit to follow in Yaakov’s footsteps and be worthy of eternal success and praise.


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