Wednesday, December 2, 2020






Dedicated l’refuah shelimah for נטע יצחק בן רחל


          Uri Zohar was once celebrated as “the top comedian, television and radio talk-show host, social satirist, actor, and film producer on the Israeli scene.” Today, Rabbi Uri Zohar is perhaps Israel's foremost ba'al teshuvah, or returnee to traditional Jewish observance. He often says, “You are looking at the happiest man in the world! I was forty years old and I had everything imaginable. I was a movie star and producer, and I had a tremendous amount of publicity. I rubbed shoulders with all the big movers in showbiz. Yet my life had no meaning. When I discovered the beauty of Torah and mitzvos, I gave up everything I had, and found new happiness and meaning worth more than all I had ever possessed.

          For all his fabled billions, Bill Gates is not nearly as wealthy as I am. If you were to offer me all of his money in exchange for my agreement not to don tefillin just tomorrow morning, I wouldn't hesitate one second before refusing. Is he capable of such a refusal?”


          “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; and the ball of Yaakov’s thighbone became dislocated as he wrestled with him. 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, if you please, what is your name." And he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there."[2]

          The confrontation of Yaakov and the angel of Eisav is symbolic of our perpetual struggle with our evil inclination. Through understanding how Yaakov prevailed over the angel, we too can learn the secret of overcoming our own inclination.

          The Kli Yakar explains that the confrontation of Yaakov with the angel of Eisav transpired at night, when Yaakov was alone and vulnerable. When one is feeling lonely or down, that is when he is most vulnerable. In the sunlight when one feels inner joy, we aren’t as vulnerable, but the wily yester hara bides his time patiently.

          When asked, Yaakov immediately told the angel his own name, so why did the angel refuse to reciprocate? Furthermore, why was it so important for Yaakov to know the name of the angel at all?

          Rabbi Leib Chasman[3] explains that the name of a person symbolizes his inner essence and strength. Tradition is that every couple is blessed with divine insight when they choose a name for their child.[4]

          When Yaakov asked the name of the angel, he wanted to know the essence of his strength. This was all the more important because it was the Angel of Eisav, the Satan.

          In overcoming the angel Yaakov attained new heights of greatness. The angel felt compelled to change Yaakov’s name to a more befitting title that represented the fact that Yaakov "strove with men and the divine and had overcome". After his own name was changed, Yaakov turned to the angel and asked him what his underlying strength was. The truth is that the angel answered Yaakov’s question. He replied to Yaakov, "My name is: Why do you ask my name? That is my title and essence. Do you know how I convince people to sin and fall prey to evil? I tell people not to ask questions. I cause dark to appear as light and I cause evil to appear as good. I tell people they absolutely need to have things that will end up hurting them. My strength lies in convincing people not to understand things clearly. Don’t ask questions! Just do it!"

          As a result of that epic struggle between Yaakov and the angel, we do not eat from the Gid Hanashe[5]. The Gemara[6] records a dispute between two Amoraim whether the Gid Hanashe has any taste. The Gemara concludes that it is tasteless. If so, why does the Torah forbid us from eating it; why would anyone care to eat it anyway?

          Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzhal, the Rabbi of the Old City of Yerushalyim, explains that the aforementioned question bring out the exact lesson the Torah wants to convey with this prohibition. We think our evil inclination wants us to enjoy life and ‘live it up’. However, in truth, our evil inclination is our greatest enemy in the world.

          The Chovas Halvavos[7] explains that our evil inclination ideally wants us to suffer in this world and in the next world. However, it understands that if he would try to get us to give up everything, we wouldn’t follow his lead. Instead, he makes this world seem alluring and inviting so that we fall prey to sin and exchange our eternal world for this finite world. But when granted the opportunity, our evil inclination will seek to make us miserable with everything.

          Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky noted that we often don’t realize when our evil inclination is at work. Searching for a suit can be an arduous process.  After going to a few stores and trying on quite a few suits, he may finally find a suit that strikes his fancy. He will then have it checked for shatnez and then has it altered by his tailor. When he finally emerges from the tailor with his brand-new suit, he should be ecstatic. Yet at that moment he may be seized by feelings of doubt. That is the work of his evil inclination, trying to strip him of the happiness he should be feeling.

          Our evil inclination takes things that are tasteless and void of meaning and spices them up. We foolishly follow his lead. As soon as he ensnares us to commit a sin, he leaves us face the guilt and shame of our actions.

          The essence of the Evil Inclination is "Why do you ask my name?" His name is the ability to falsify names and cloud our thinking and sense of balance and integrity. Yaakov overcame the angel by maintaining the struggle until the crack of dawn. As soon as the sun arose, the angel’s strength was sapped, and Yaakov was able to defeat him.

          The yetzer hara’s strength lies in the darkness – the darkness of night and the darkness of our spirit. We overcome him by shining the light of truth upon him and the thoughts he plants within us. Often, we need the assistance of others to help us shine that light. In the blinding light of truth his energy dwindles.


          “Why is it that you ask my name?”

          “Let me go, for the dawn has broken”


Rabbi Dani Staum


[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5762. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] Bereishis 32:25-30

[3] Ohr Yahel

[4] A new father once approached the Satmar Rebbe zt’l and asked him what he should name his newborn son. The Rebbe refused to answer stating that the father would be blessed with a certain level of prophecy when deciding the name that the Rebbe himself would not be privy to.

[5] The sinew of the ball of the thighbone

[6] Chullin 89b

[7] Chapter Yichud Hama’aseh


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