Battling the Stranger in the Darkness

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The Stranger in the Night

As Jacob approached the Land of Israel with his wives and children, he prepared himself for his encounter with his estranged brother, Esau. Alone on the bank of the Yabok River in the middle of the night, Jacob was attacked by a mysterious being, with whom he wrestled until dawn. Our sages explain that this being is the spiritual root — the archangel — of his brother, Esau.

Mission Accomplished

As dawn rose, Jacob defeated Esau's archangel. Jacob's control was so complete over him that the angel had to beg Jacob to let him go. Our sages explain that Esau's angel wanted to hurry to praise God at dawn. Every angel has one day in which he praises God. Significantly, the day of his defeat at the hands of Jacob was the day that Esau's archangel was to praise God. This was the day that he fulfilled his Divine mission — to bring Jacob to a state in which he must focus all his courage and energy to defeat Esau.

Every person is in a constant state of struggle with the angel of our physical and spiritual enemy, Esau. The purpose of this angel, which symbolizes the evil within us and in our surroundings, is to motivate us to overcome that evil and to triumph in goodness. When the angel completed his mission with Jacob, he achieved the state in which he could now praise his Creator for giving him the gift of fulfilling his purpose.

In our own lives, we fulfill many Divine missions. Every mitzvah ("commandment") that we perform is the fulfillment of a mission. When we successfully fulfill our mission, we are in a spiritual state in which we are ready and able to praise God for the gift of achieving our purpose.

The Three meanings of Avak

The most significant and potent word in the description of Jacob's encounter with the angel is "vaye'avek," (Genesis 32:24) which means, "and he wrestled." The root of this word is alef, beit, kuf. This root can be understood in three ways.


The first meaning of the root alef, beit, kuf is avak, which means, "dust." Our sages explain that when Jacob and the angel wrestled, the stirred up dust that reached all the way to God's Divine throne. Symbolically, this struggle represents the good inclination in the soul (represented by Jacob) battling with the evil inclination in the soul (represented by Esau). For more on this topic listen to Rabbi Ginsburgh's audio lecture, "Natural Consciousness."


Rashi explains that phonetically, the alef and chet are interchangeable. Thus, we can read this root as chet, beit, kuf — chavak — which means "embrace." Embrace can have a positive connotation, as in the Song of Songs, but it can also be the embrace of combat, in which the combatants embrace with the purpose of throwing each other on the ground.


The third meaning of the root alef, beit, kuf is found in Rabbinic Hebrew, as avukah, which means "torch" or "fire." This image corresponds to night, when one needs a torch to light up the darkness.

Worlds, Souls, Divinity

The Ba'al Shem Tov explains that in every element of reality there are three dimensions: the outer dimension of "worlds," which is created reality, the inner dimension of souls, which is the Jewish souls within the worlds and the third dimension of pure Divinity — that God is One and God is all within creation. We are created with both a good and evil inclination in order to perfect the first two dimensions of reality and to manifest the third.

The three meanings of the root alef, beit, kuf correspond to the three dimensions of reality as follows:


The Dust of Worlds

According to the Ba'al Shem Tov, the energy of rectifying the outer dimension of reality — worlds — is through the psychological process of elevation, in which we work to bring our reality to a higher level. The word for "world," olam, means "concealment." The very process by which we work to reveal and elevate the worldly dimension of reality is its rectification.

All of created reality is symbolically referred to as dust. When the sun shines through the window, we see specks of dust in the ray of light. Meditation on that dust is meditation on the worlds vis a vis the Creator. In Jacob's triumphant battle with the archangel of Esau, he struggled to elevate and rectify the world, kicking up dust that ascended all the way to the Divine throne.


The Embrace of Souls

Souls do not require rectification, but rather, embrace. They yearn to become one. The secret of the wrestling between Jacob and Esau's archangel is the secret of their embrace. Although they are enemies, the origin of this embrace is in the origin of their souls that unite in embrace and are rectified.


The Divine Torch

God is symbolized by fire in many places in the Torah. The third level, the torch, is pure Divinity. The torch lights up the night, which symbolizes the world. Divinity does not require rectification. Rather, we must reveal Godliness throughout reality, as a torch in the night. As the light of the torch shines more powerfully, the darkness of night disappears, and we experience the pure, brilliant and potent light of God in the world.

In his battle with the angel of Esau, Jacob overcomes his non-militant nature. He fights and defeats the archangel of his brother, revealing the torch of Divine light.


The secret of Jacob's wrestling bout with the archangel of Esau is the secret of elevation of the worlds, the embrace of the souls, and finally the revelation of the Divine torch of God's light in all reality.

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