Table Talk: Vayishlach
I’d have killed him! Jacob wrestled an angel of God, whatever that means, and won. He surely could have killed, or at least, defeated Eliphaz whsent by Esau to murder Jacob. Why did he
hand over all his money to his nephew rather than fight for himself? One Midrash explains that Jacob looked into the future and saw that Eliphaz was destined to have a descendent who would make a remarkable contribution to the Jewish people; Onkelos the convert. Is that a good enough reason to forfeit his money and the lives of so many of his descendants who would be killed by other descendants of Eliphaz?
How can you wrestle an angel?
You cannot. Angels are not physical beings. They have no free choice. They can only perform their specific assignment. Who was this being wrestling with Jacob? Maimonides wrote that it was a vision. Nachmanides wonders how Jacob could have been wounded by a vision. Abarbanel suggests that some visions are sufficiently intense to leave the person physically affected. Is it possible that this adversary was not an angel but a spy sent by Esau to follow Jacob and report on all his movements? This would also explain why Laban did not send Leah out to shepherd his flocks; he did not want Esau or his representative to grab Leah. It would explain why Jacob “lifted” a stone as a monument after his final confrontation with Laban rather than “place” it as he did with his other monuments; Jacob was demonstrating his great physical strength in order to intimidate Esau’s man.
We Don’t Do That
“An abomination had been done against Israel when someone slept with the daughter of Jacob, and such things are not done.” (Genesis 34:7) What is worse; the abomination, or, “such things are not done”? What is the difference between the two? Are there times when something may be permitted according to Jewish law but “such things are not done”?