Higher and Higher

Scott Shulman – 5768

In this week’s parsha, we come across the following verse (32:30):

“Then Jacob asked, and he said ‘Please tell me your name.’ And he (the angel) said ‘Why do you ask my name?’ And he (the angel) blessed him there.”

Regarding this verse, one may ask several questions:

  1. Why did Jacob want to know the angel’s name?
  2. Why did the angel respond with a question of his own rather than answering Jacob’s question?
  3. Why did the angel bless Jacob?

As Chazal teach us, a person’s name represents his or her true essence in the world. Chazal also teach that while ruach ha-kodesh no longer exists today, Hashem still grants it to parents so that they will properly identify their child’s essential attributes. With this in mind, Jacob was anxious to soak up this defining moment and discover the essence of the being he just faced. However, not even Jacob would be able to truly understand this Divine essence despite his successful struggle with it; Jacob’s struggle was a battle in this world, but inquiring into the essence of the angel was a further step of probing into the depths of the heavenly world. Perhaps the end of the verse hints to this idea. We are told that the angel blessed Jacob “שם,” which means “there.” However, שם is also the root for the word heaven (שמים). We now understand the angel’s refusal. He essentially tells Jacob: How can you probe the core of a heavenly being, when you yourself are an earthly one?

At this point, we are still left with the third question. Instead of actually answering Jacob’s formal request, why did the angel go out of his way to give him a seemingly unnecessary blessing? To answer this, we must go to the book of Exodus, where it states, “He (Hashem) said, “You will not be able to see My face, for no human can see My face and live” (chapter 33, verse 20). Bearing this in mind, perhaps the angel was blessing Jacob in order to secure his physical life. Jacob had gotten so caught up in the moment that he didn’t realize he had crossed into a spiritual danger zone by probing the depths of a Divine creature. While the angel was by no means Hashem Himself, it certainly was on a much higher spiritual level then even a patriarch. This is why the very next verse in our parsha (32:31) states that Jacob was grateful for seeing the Divine face to face while his life was still saved.

But aside from the angel’s blessing, how was Jacob truly able to both see into the Divine while also being saved from the dangerous consequences of such an encounter? The answer may be found in the actual struggle between Jacob and the angel. Through the long fight, Jacob reached a point beyond the realm and challenges of this world and managed to alter his essence to a more elevated state, and this is why he was given a new name describing his closer relationship with Hashem. The parsha may hint to this point as well. Why did the angel choose to dislocate Jacob’s hip socket? The injury hints to what Jacob had accomplished. By surviving this spiritual struggle with the angel, Jacob transcended this world, where the physical components are essential. We physically travel with our legs, connected to our hips. But more than that, the hip is the mid section of our body, which is the exact division between the spiritual (above the hip), and the physical (below the hip). Jacob still lived in this world, but he reached a greatly elevated state of existence and was now much closer to the spiritual worlds; this disconnect with the physical world is reflected by his dislocated hip. Jacob’s new status is also reflected in verse 32, which states that, “The sun rose for him as he passed…” We learn in the ninth chapter of tractate Berachos (57B) that the sun is somewhat similar to the next world. Our verse is thus showing that even after his encounter with the angel, Jacob remained on a continuously elevated level. May we all merit developing this higher level in our own lives.



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