Thursday, December 12, 2019




          Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel related that over sixty years ago his father, Rabbi Nosson zt”l, recounted the following:
          During the early days of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, one of the talmidim related that he had an intriguing dream. In his dream, he was informed that Moshiach was in a room just up ahead. When he went to the room and looked inside, he saw that Moshiach was sleeping. Standing next to him was Rabbi Akiva Eiger trying to shake him awake, but Moshiach wouldn’t budge. Then the Chasam Sofer entered and he too tried unsuccessfully to rouse Moshiach. The last one to enter was Rabbi Aharon Kotler (who was still alive at the time of the dream), but he too was unsuccessful.
          There were a few yeshiva students who then walked into the room, one of whom was holding a basketball because they were playing ball during bain hesedarim. One of the other bochurim was holding a gemara and he told his friends that they had to put away the ball because it was time to learn. As they were leaving, they too tried to wake up Moshiach. As soon, as they touched his shoulder he immediately stood up.

    After finally gathering his family and leaving the home of Lavan, Yaakov geared up for his epic confrontation with his estranged brother, Eisav. But the evening before that occurred, Yaakov crossed the river alone and was confronted by the angel of Eisav.
          “Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the ball of his thighbone… Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn has broken." And he said, "I will not let you go unless you have blessed me." He said to him, "What is your name?" He said, "Yaakov". He said, "No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisroel, for you have striven with the divine and with men and you have overcome." Then Yaakov inquired, and he said, "Tell me please, what is your name." And he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there."[1]
     The commentators note that the confrontation of Yaakov and the angel of Eisav is symbolic of our eternal struggle with our evil inclination. Kli Yakar explains that the confrontation of Yaakov with the angel of Eisav transpired at night, when Yaakov was alone and vulnerable. This is one of the greatest tactics of the Yetzer Hara. When one is feeling lowly and lonely, his evil inclination capitalizes on that vulnerability. It is specifically when one feels insignificant when one is in greatest peril of falling prey to sin. Conversely, when one feels upbeat, analogous to the shining sun, one has more strength to resist temptation and negative influences.
    When the angel asked Yaakov what his name was, Yaakov immediately replied. Why did the angel refuse to reciprocate? In addition, why was it important for Yaakov to know the angel’s name anyway?
    Rabbi Leib Chasman zt’l explains that the name of a person reflects their inner essence and strength.[2]
          When Yaakov asked the angel for its name, he was asking about his essence; his energy source and objective. Being that this angel was the evil inclination incarnate, understanding what “makes him tick” is vital for us to understand.
    In overcoming the angel, Yaakov reached a new level of greatness and, therefore, the angel gave him a new name that incorporated and reflected his newfound status. The name Yisrael connoted that he had "struggled against men and angels and had overcome". After his own name was changed, Yaakov asked the angel what his name - the source of his energy - is. The angel answered Yaakov’s question. He essentially replied, "My name is: "Why do you ask my name? That is my title and essence. Do you know how I lure people to sin? By confusing them and convincing them not to think too much or sufficiently analyze the situation. I thrive on gray areas and lack of clarity. Don’t ask what my name is! Just do it! You’ll worry about the repercussions later! That is my name!”
    When Yaakov struggled with the angel and overcame him, there was one casualty - Yaakov’s thigh was dislocated. As a result, in commemoration of that encounter, we are prohibited to eat the gid hanashe, the sciatic nerve. The gemara[3] records a dispute whether the gid hanashe has any taste. The gemara concludes that it is tasteless.
    Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita, Rabbi of the Old City of Yerushalyim, explained that there is a great symbolic message in the prohibition of eating the tasteless gid hanashe. We maintain a mistaken illusion that our evil inclination wants us to enjoy life and ‘live it up’. In truth however, our evil inclination is our foremost enemy.
    Chovas Halvavos[4] explains that our evil inclination wants to strip us of all enjoyment, gain and pleasure - in this world and in the next world. However, he understands that he will not be able to convince us to destroy ourselves completely. He reasons that if there is a choice, he would rather goad us to live it up in this world if doing so will get us to forfeit part of our portion in the World to Come. But when he has the opportunity to cause us not to enjoy this world, he does that too.
          Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l illustrated this idea with a contemporary example. If one wants to purchase a new suit, he may spend significant time looking through racks of suits until he finds a few that he likes. He tries them all on, ponders how they feel and look on him, and finally settles on one suit. He purchases it, has it shatnez tested, and then brings it to the tailor. When he finally picks up his new suit and is walking to his car, he begins to have second thoughts - perhaps he should have gotten the other suit he was considering. Those negative thoughts are unquestionably the product of his evil inclination. Now when he should feel blissful joy and gratitude that he finally found a suit, why should he start second guessing himself? His greatest enemy is internal - it doesn’t want him to have any enjoyment at all. Only when he realizes that it’s stemming up from an evil source can he seek to fight against it.
          One of our evil inclination’s greatest weapons is illusion and fantasy. He causes the pleasures of this world to seem incredibly glamorous and alluring. In doing so he hopes that will fall prey to sin, and thereby exchange our eternal world for momentary fleeting pleasure. He incited within us feelings of jealousy, enmity, and lust. He builds up fantasies in our mind, and then when he gets it to stumble in sin, we realize it was a fleeting experience, not nearly what we thought it would be. And then he we are left in the debris of our folly, whereupon our evil inclination engenders self-loathing and shame. He causes that which is tasteless to seem so inviting and that is the message of the gid hanashe. Be wary of the yetzer hara which makes tasteless seem tasty.
    The strength of our evil inclination is rooted in the question, "Why do you ask my name?" He has the ability to cause what is truly important and meaningful to seem boring, difficult, and not enjoyable. Yaakov overcame the angel because he detained him until dawn broke through the darkness. The light of clarity is our greatest weapon to overcome it.
    Often in life we become caught up in the hedonism and pettiness around us. Yaakov Avinu demonstrates that that the way to overcome our internal enemy is by maintaining the struggle until the sun rises, until we can pull ourselves away from the grip of his darkness. We need to spit out the tasteless sinew of the gid hanashe and recognize that it’s tasteless in the end.

          After relating the dream, Rabbi Wachtfogel concluded that although it was only a dream, it contains a poignant message. In our day, the evil inclination has never been stronger. We may not be able to do the great things that previous generations did, but our efforts to restrain ourselves from negative influences and remain true to Torah and its values, no generation before us has ever been so tested or challenged. And that is why our generation is worthy to fulfill the dream and welcome Moshiach.

          "Why is it that you ask my name?"
          “He struggled against men and angels and overcame”

Rabbi Dani Staum LMSW
Rebbe, Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck, NJ
Principal, Ohr Naftali, New Windsor NY

[1] Bereishis 32:25-30
[2] When a new father approached the Satmar Rebbe zt’l and asked him to suggest what he should name his newborn son, the Rebbe refused to answer. The Rebbe explained that when parents name their newborn child, they are granted divine assistance to give a name that reflects the child’s essence and soul. The Rebbe noted that he himself was not given that ability with someone else’s child, so he did not want to interfere.
[3] Chullin 89b
[4] Perek Yichud Hama’aseh


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