Parshas Vayishlach 5758
Ask Me No Questions
Volume 4 Issue 8
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
One of the Bible's most famous battles was not between two armies or two
nations. It was between mortal man and his immortal counterpart -- an
Leaving his family's encampment to retrieve some small items, Yaakov
Avinu (Jacob) lingered alone in the pre-dawn hours, and a man approached
him. The man engaged him in battle, and in the struggle, Yaakov
dislocated his sciatic nerve. Nevertheless, he was able to lock the
mysterious man in a fast hold. "Send me away," cried the foe, "dawn is
Yaakov realized that this combatant was no ordinary wayfarer, in fact he
was a heavenly messenger - the Angel of Esav -- and Yaakov made a
condition for release. "I will not release you unless you bless me," he
The Midrash explains that everyone has an angelic representative.
Yaakov, who had Divine inspiration, met his angelic opponent as a prelude
to the face-to-face encounter with his adversarial mortal brother. The
Talmud explains that the angel had celestial responsibilities that began
at dawn. He therefore begged Yaakov to allow him to return to those
In response to Yaakov's demand, the angel asked Yaakov his name to which
he declared. "Your name will no longer be Yaakov but rather Yisrael
(Israel), as you fought with angels and with men (Lavan & Esav) - and
won" (Genesis 32:26-29).
Then Yaakov asks the angel for his name. The response is enigmatic.
"Why do you ask my name?" There is no further response. The angel
blesses Yaakov who, badly injured, limps back to his family (Genesis
The obvious question is: What is the meaning of the angel's response? Why
did he answer Yaakov's question with a question? Why did he refuse to
divulge his name? Or did the angel actually tell Yaakov an answer with
At our supper table one evening each of our children took turns trying to
stump me and my wife, with riddles. Some of the brain twisters were
quite tricky, but my wife and I managed to figure out the answers. Then
my daughter announced that she had something to say that would stump
After prefacing her remarks by telling everyone to listen to the clues
carefully, She started her riddle.
She began by telling us that China had 1.2 billion people, it occupied
approximately 3,700,000 sq. miles, and its population density was 327
people per sq. mi. She continued by listing China's principal languages:
Mandarin, Yue, Wu, Hakka, Xiang, Gan, Minbei, Minnan. Then she stopped,
and with a probing tone in her voice announced quite smugly: "How long is
a Chinaman's name."
We all took the last statement as a question and looked at each other.
We were stumped. How did the previously stated facts correlate with the
length of a Chinaman's name? How would the fact that China had over a
billion people explain how long a Chinese name was?
Again she just stood up and repeated. "How long is a Chinaman's name."
In unison, we all shrugged our shoulders. "O.K.", we conceded, "How long
is a Chinaman's name?"
My daughter just smiled. "I don't know either. I never asked you a
question all I wanted to tell you, in addition to all the other facts
that I compiled about China, is that How Long, is the name of a Chinese
Sometimes, "why do you ask" is a questions, sometimes it is an answer as
well. The angel that wrestled with Yaakov responded to Yaakov's question
in a very intriguing way. My name is, "why do you ask my name." Rabbi
Yehuda Laib Chasman, the Mashgiach (dean of ethics) of the Hebron
Yeshiva, explained that the angel of Esau sent a very poignant message
through Yaakov. Those who struggle with Jacob do not want us to question
them. They want us to act without thought, rhyme or reason. Their
motto is, "Why do you ask?" If we do not ask questions, Esav's angel will
surely overcome. If you ask no questions, no answers are necessary.
Actions go unchecked, and there is never an accounting.
Throughout history, Jews always asked for names. When Moshe first
encounters G-d in the Egyptian dessert he asks of Him, "when the Jews ask
me what is His Name what should I tell them." Hashem responds, "I shall
be As I Shall Be" (Exodus 3:13-14). The Jews were asking for an
anthropomorphic quality that G-d's name personified. Yaakov, too, wanted
to understand the very essence of the angel who personified the struggles
he would eternally encounter.
The answer was simple - My name is - Why-do-you-ask-my-name. That name
may be a little confusing at times. It may be difficult to comprehend.
It may even sound like Chinese. But if we don't ask, and if we are
satisfied with the response, "why even ask?", then we will never have an
answer. In fact, we won't even have a clue.
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