Israel is a Process
Israel is an Action
Israel is a Verb

Among other things
israel describes
our inner struggles
as well as
the way we wrestle
with Torah

Rashi comments
on the very first words in Torah:
In the beginning,
This verse says nothing but
do a drash on me!!
Expound me!!

Could we not say the same
of the entire Torah?
does Rashi not find
that the Text demands it
of us?
Do we not find
that the Text demands it of us,
the Children of Israel?

Israel shall be your name. - Genesis 35:10 & 32:29

Why should Israel be my name?

Because you sarita שרית
with Elohim and humans
and you will be able. - Genesis 32:29

sarita שרית
from the root:
sarah שרה to persist, to exert oneself, to persevere, to struggle, to wrestle
Israel ישראל

Look at the verb sarah שרה
(And yes,
it is also the name
the mother of all Jews.)

specifically consider these conjugations:
sarita שרית you wrestled
isreh ישרה he will wrestle
isru ישרו they will wrestle

There’s a tension here.
On the one hand,
the verse says
because sarita שרית
because you wrestled

And yet the name given is
which is rather like
isreh ישרה he will wrestle
isru ישרו they will wrestle

As if to say:
You wrestled previously,
and he (your child)
or they (your children)
will come to wrestle.

Wrestle with what?
Wrestle with Whom?
Because you wrestled with Elohim,
that is,
because you wrestled with El,
that is God
isre El
isru El
In other words:
You will be called:
‘he will wrestle’,
‘they will wrestle’,
‘your children will wrestle’.

Yaaqov wrestles at night,
in the dark,
ad alot hashakhar עד עלות השחר - Genesis 32:25
He wrestles:
Towards the lifting of the blackness

What might it mean?
Yaaqov will be left alone (l’vado לבדו)
and he will struggle (ye’aveq (יאבק
man with him
until the lifting of the blackness.

Very peculiar.
Very difficult to understand.

until the lifting of the blackness.
To paraphrase Hirsch:
Until night is lifted from the earth
Yaaqov will have to wrestle.
Until clarity
until boqer בקר
until such time
as Yaaqov can distinguish
one thing from another,
until pure conscious awareness.
Until pure wakefulness
is realized,
Yaaqov will continue to wrestle,
in the dust.

Tangled in the dust?

and he will struggle (ye’aveq (יאבק
l’he’aveq להאבק to struggle, to wrestle, to get dusty
avaq אבק dust
and he will struggle
and he will get dusty
Menachem ben Saruk:
A man became dusted
He became bound up
He became entangled in dust

Man became entangled in dust?
Man will become entangled in dust?

The Zohar teaches:
avaq rules in exile:
avaq is like nighttime
dust is exile
dust is nighttime.
It is dark:
avaq rules over Israel
we are thrown to the earth
until light appears
and daylight shines.

We wrestle in the dark
we wrestle in the dust,
until the lifting of the blackness,
until the lifting of the dust,
until daylight shines,
and we can distinguish
one thing from another.

So, Yaaqov wrestles.

Yaaqov wrestles
in the dark night of his soul?

Rabbi J Sacks:
“It was Yaaqov’s inner battle
with existential truth.”

Rav Ashlag speaks of:
the work of confronting
our internal demons
and negative traits.

I wrestle,
I have wrestled,
and I will wrestle
tangled in the dust
of the dark corners
of my heart
until I can
lift it?

And now, I wrestle
with God:
But God:
You make darkness
and it is night. - Psalm 104:20
This refers to this world,
which is like the night. - Bava Metzia 83b

answers God:
I form or אור
and I create darkness khoshekh חשך
I make shalom
and I create ra רע - Isaiah 45:7
I created the ra inclination (yetzer hara)
and I created Torah as its antidote. - Kiddushin 30b
Wisdom is superior to foolishness
as light is superior to darkness. - Ecclesiastes 2:13

as I wrestle,
in the dark dust of my soul,
can I elevate even the avaq?
In the dark night of this world
can I elevate even the dust,
the blackness with which
I am entangled?

Chullin 91a:
The verse concerning Yaaqov’s wrestling
teaches that they raised dust
even unto the Throne of Glory.

There is a process.

This is the process:
Every night I am entangled:
I am entangled in the dust
and a perpetual darkness . . .
I cannot distinguish
one thing from another:
I cannot see
the obstacles in my path:
what is that
which confronts me.

But there is a process
I wrestle
I wrestled
I will wrestle
ad alot hashakhar עד עלות השחר
unto the lifting of the darkness
towards boqer
towards the time when
things can be distinguished
one from another.

am I able to do this?
Because you sarita שרית
because you will wrestle
with Elohim and humans
and tukhal תוכל
and you will be able. - Genesis 32:29

And the sun rose for him - Genesis 32:32
i.e. the sun rose for Israel
the sun rose
for the one who wrestles.

Midrash Genesis Rabbah:
The sun rose
in order to heal him.
And so will the sun
heal your descendants.

This constitutes a promise.

To paraphrase the Chasam Sofer:
The children of struggle
will triumph.
And Yaaqov arrived
shalem שלם - Genesis 33:18

Israel is a process
that describes the wrestling
in the dark night
of the soul.

Can we also wrestle
with Torah?

Pirkei Avos 1:4:
Make your house a meeting house for sages,
vehevey mitabeq ba’afar והוי מתאבק בעפר
wrestle in the dust
of the dust of their feet,
and thirstily drink their words.
Whoever engages Torah
mitaleh מתעלה
becomes elevated - Pirkei Avos 6:2

Israel is not stasis.
Israel is kinesis
Kinetic Israel

Expound me!


Rav Joseph B Soloveitchik: “Biblical heroism is not ecstatic but contemplative; not loud but hushed; not dramatic or spectacular but mute. The individual, instead of undertaking heroic action sporadically, lives constantly as a hero.” - Commentary on Genesis 32:25

Rashi, commentary on Genesis 1:1: darsheni דרשני

sarah שרה to persist, to exert oneself, to persevere, to struggle, to wrestle. What should we make of the fact that this word is identical to the name Sarah שרה, keeping in mind that God changes her name from Sarai, meaning princess. What might it mean to go from princess to exert oneself, from princess to struggle, from princess to persevere.

Toward the elevating of the blackness - Genesis 32:25 - ad alot hashakhar עד עלות השחר - alot עלות comes from the root alah עלה, meaning to go up, to ascend, to climb. See for example, Genesis 28:12: He had a dream: a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to heaven, and angels of God olim עלים were ascending and descending on it.

Genesis 32:29 - With humans The word in the original Hebrew is anashim אנשים, plural of enosh אנוש, meaning mankind. What are we to make of the similarity between this word and anash אנש, meaning to be weak, sick, incurable. See, for example, Jeremiah 15:18: Why must my pain be endless, my wound incurable makati anushah מכתי אנושה

Genesis 32:29  - You will be able The word translated as able is tukhal תוכל. The root of this word is yakhol יכל, which Brown-Driver-Briggs defines as to be able, to have power, to prevail, to endure. In our verse, it appears in the future tense, and can be either second person singular, or third person feminine. Thus, it can be read as either you will be able, or she will be able. Although yakhol יכל is a word frequently used throughout Tanakh, an intriguing and cryptic use of it occurs at Genesis 30:8: And Rachel said naftulai Elohim, niftalti with my sister, and yet  yakholti. Thus she called his name Naftali, where niftal, from the root patal means to twist, to wrestle with. The sense of what Rachel is saying seems to be something like a sacred wrestling match did I wage with my sister; or even better: I wrestled myself in a Godly wrestling with my sister, and I am also able.

See also Hosea 12:4-5 He strove with Elohim, and he strove with an angel.

To be sure, our classical commentators propose many and diverse possibilities as to the question with what or with whom was Yaaqov wrestling. Some see the mysterious opponent as an angel, some see him as Yaaqov’s brother Esau, while others see the wrestling match as an internal struggle: i.e. Yaaqov wrestling within himself. Provocatively, the Text offers the possibility that Yaaqov was, in fact, wrestling with God. After all, this mysterious opponent says ki-sarita im-Elohim כישרית עםאלהים, and Yaaqov called the name of the place Peniel פניאל (The Face of God), “for I have seen Elohim panim el-panim פנים אלפנים (face to face) yet my life was spared (Genesis 32:29 & 31). How is it that Yaaqov saw God face to face? After all, You cannot see My face, for the human cannot see Me and live (Exodus 33:20). Is Yaaqov mistaken? Or did he somehow truly have a most singular encounter?

yivater יותר - from the verb l’hotir להותר to leave. The verb seems to be presented in the third-person future tense, passive voice. Thus, the verse in question seems to read: Yaaqov will be left alone.

ye’aveq יאבק - in the original Hebrew, the verb l’he’aveq להאבק, meaning to struggle, to wrestle, to get dusty, is herein presented in the third-person future tense. Thus, the Torah quite literally reads He will struggle.

avaq אבק dust - see, for example, Deuteronomy 28:24: Hashem will make the rain of your land avaq, and sand shall drop on you from the sky, until you are wiped out. Exodus 9:9: It shall become avaq all over the land of Egypt, and cause an inflammation. Shall we make anything of the fact that the river which Yaaqov has crossed alone, the night before the wrestling match, is called Yaboq? Compare the spelling: avaq אבק with Yaboq יבק. We note that both share בק (baq or boq) as a root. Brown-Driver-Briggs suggests there may be a connection between these two words, and opines that the name of the river Yaboq and avaq אבק may ultimately derive from baqaq בקק. Somewhat provocatively baqaq בקק can be taken to mean either to be luxuriant, or to be empty, to be void. To the extent that the river Yaboq stands in for dust, emptiness (or even a certain luxuriousness which belies a fundamental emptiness) can we not read Genesis 32:23 as conveying something like and he will cross the crossing of dust, or and he will cross the crossing of emptiness (as the verb avar עבר, to cross, may be read as being conjugated in the future tense). Thus, might Genesis 32:23 serve to foreshadow Yaaqov’s ultimate success in wresting towards the lifting of the blackness.

Rabbi S R Hirsch, Commentary on Genesis 32:25: shakhar שחר, to seek, the time when one can seek for things, but still has to seek for them, the beginning of dawn, the time which precedes the boker בקר, the time of distant recognition and differentiations. As long as night reigns on earth, as long as the consciousness, the minds of men are confused, and things are not recognized clearly and distinctly for what they really are, for so long will he have to reckon on struggle and opposition. Thus, the meaning of this experience at night is expressed as the answer to Yaaqov’s cry of distress . . . Yaaqov will have to contend until night wanes from the earth.”

The Zohar 1:170a, Vayishlach, distinguishes between afar עפר, meaning dust of the earth, and avaq אבק dust. Concerning afar, the Zohar notes that it is the sort of earth dust from which all fruits grow, as it comprises everything above and below. By contrast, it describes avaq the residue of fire . . . it never produces fruits. Further, the Zohar likens avaq to the dust of exile and to nighttime.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks — “It is equally clear what was transacted in the wrestling match the previous night. It was Jacob’s inner battle with existential truth. Who was he? The man who longed to be Esau? Or the man called to a different destiny? . . . The passage ends with the words, Vayavo Ya’akov shalem, ‘And Jacob emerged complete.’ That is the stunning truth at which Jacob finally arrived, and to which the name Israel is testimony. To be complete we do not need Esau’s blessing of wealth and power. Ours is another face, an alternative destiny, a different blessing. The face we bear is the image we see reflected in the face of God when we wrestle with God and refuse to let go.” Covenant and Conversation, Genesis: The Book of Beginnings; Jerusalem: Maggid Books, Koren Publishers, 2009, p.227

Rabbi S R Hirsch, Commentary on Genesis 32:30: “When the sun does rise on earth, then all names will fade before the One Name: the four-lettered Name of the God of Love.”

Menachem ben Saruk, Spain, c. 920-980, compiled a dictionary of Hebrew, entitled Machberes

Rashi, Commentary on Genesis 32:25

Ramban, Commentary on Genesis 32:25

Rav Yehuda Ashlag, Commentary on Zohar 170a-b, Vayishlach: “Without the Light of The Creator, man remains dark, barren, and as spiritually worthless as avaq, because, like the moon, man has no Light of his own [only God’s light, which humans reflect].” Also: “Spiritual development arouses goodness and Light in our lives, but not through the pursuit of fulfillment or the search for happiness. Rather, it is achieved through the work of confronting our internal demons and negative traits.”

Israel - see Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Commentary on Genesis 32:29: “There is an immanent intellect and a transcendental intellect. In order to attain Godliness, a person must transform the transcendental intellect into immanent intellect, so that he will possess both levels of Godliness. The name Yaaqov יעקב represents the lower level of intellect, the eiqev (עקב heel). The letters of the name Israel (ישראל) may be rearranged to form the the phrase li rosh (לי ראש I have a head), indicating the higher level of intellect. When a person is on a low level, he must cry out to God. Then he attains transcendental intellect, and he incorporates the qualities found in the names Yaaqov and Israel. [If you take] your devotions seriously, [you] can overcome even angels in order to serve God.”

Midrash Genesis Rabbah 78:5 - The sun rose in order to heal him . . . so will the sun heal your descendants. See also, Sefer ha-Khinukh, mitzvah 3, The Prohibition Against Eating the Gid ha-Nasheh: Just as the sun rose for him, to effect his healing . . . so too will the sun of Mashiach rise for us, the children, and heal us from our affliction, and redeem us. Amen! Speedily in our days.

Chasam Sofer Commentary on Vayishlach - “the angel’s blessing is an acknowledgement that throughout millennia of exile and persecution, Yaaqov’s children will triumph, unwavering in their relationship with Hashem.” Chasam Sofer Commentary on Torah: Bereishis; Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2009, p. 209

And Yaaqov arrived intact Genesis 33:18: I find it most intriguing that immediately before this verse, Yaaqov has arrived at a very specific place: qara shem ha’maqom sukot קרא שםהמקום סכות He called the name of the place Sukkot. This is remarkable, and the subject for a further piece, God willing.

Make your house a meeting house for sages, vehevey mitabeq ba’afar והוי מתאבק בעפר wrestle in the dust of the dust of their feet Pirkei Avos 1:4. Midrash Shemuel points out that this Mishnah uses the word aveq אבק, taking it to mean that one should joust in the dust, wrestle in the war of Torah and argument, at the feet of sages. In conclusion, Midrash Shemuel states that: “one should be eager to match skills and cross intellectual swords with colleagues in order to rise to a higher level” (Cited in Abrabanel on Pirkei Avot, commentary on 1:4; and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, commentary on 1:4).

Whoever engages Torah mitaleh מתעלה becomes elevated - Pirkei Avos 6:2. In commenting on this verse, The Maharal of Prague says: “When a person engages in the study of Torah he is more than free; he is elevated above this lowly world that is limited in every dimension.”