by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"He [the angel] said, 'It will no longer be said that your name is Yaakov,
but rather Israel, for you have contested with both the Divine and with
man, and have prevailed.'" [32:29]
Some time after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the infamous Yevsektzia
expelled the Jews from the synagogue in Tcherkov, and converted it into a
social hall. [The Yevsektzia was a group of Jewish Bolsheviks dedicated to
the secularization of Russian Jewry. It was they who were responsible for
many of the Soviet decrees against Jewish studies.]
Rav Aharon Milikovsky addressed the congregation, discussing this tragic
event, and he turned to this verse from our parsha. His explanation, while
not necessarily a literal interpretation, certainly teaches a profound
lesson which is applicable even today.
We must wonder, he said -- what great victory was this? We see that Yaakov
was wounded in battle, and emerged limping on his thigh. The angel, as a
spiritual being, was not wounded. So where was the victory?
Rather, we know that when two people are engaged in an intellectual
argument, then the one who is correct offers proofs and intelligent
contradictions to the other position. The one who is in error, however,
should he refuse to admit it, will be left without intelligent proofs.
Instead, he will fume with anger, shout and slander the other party (the ad
hominem being the last recourse of one with nothing intelligent left to
say). Sometimes, he may even resort to violence.
The argument between Yaakov and the angel, the ministering angel of Esav
his brother, was certainly an intellectual argument -- an angel is an
entirely spiritual being, and there is no way it could have a physical
battle. If Yaakov emerged wounded, limping on his thigh -- then this
indicates that the ministering angel of Esav could not subdue him with
proofs, and Yaakov won the debate.
The situation, he concluded, is the same with us. We have an intellectual
dispute with the Yevsektzia. If they must use force against us, it only
indicates that the truth is on our side.
Today we know that truth was indeed with them -- the Yevsektzia faded long
before the Soviet Union itself dissolved, leaving millions of Jews with no
Jewish education, having experienced neither Rosh HaShanah nor Pesach,
neither Purim nor Chanukah. Yet it is dead and gone, and we the Jewish
Rabbi Yaakov Menken