Dvar Torah for Parshat VaYishlach
“[Yaakov] got up that night … and crossed Maavor Yabok … Yaakov remained alone. A man wrestled with him until dawn” (Genesis 32:23–25).
Considering some of the people Yaakov Avinu (our Patriarch) had to contend with, I would have thought that wrestling with an angel would be a piece o’ cake. I would have been wrong. Angels are actually pretty tough characters. They have no body, so they never get tired or worn out. They are assigned only one job at a time, so they never get distracted from the task at hand. Also, because they don’t have a physical body, they know God exists and they had better do their job!
Speaking of God, a popular pastime among us Breslovers, I’m sure you know that He created the entire world for Israel. The main reason God did that was so that Israel should carry out His will. Another way of saying this is that God created Israel in order that they should cleave to their Source and be enveloped in God (by doing His will). The only way to be enveloped in the Source is through bitul, self-negation, i.e., giving God’s will precedence over one’s own.
I’m sure you’re waiting to know how to achieve bitul. Rebbe Nachman teaches that bitul is only possible through the steady, regular practice of hitbodedut, pouring out your heart to God, in your own words, about the matters in life that are the most important to you now.
Let’s get back to Yaakov Avinu. Who was the angel that he wrestled? According to one opinion the angel was a talmid chakham (Torah scholar-gentleman). Another opinion has the angel as a Mafia don (Bereishis Rabbah 77:2). Either way, we know that it was Esav’s guardian angel (ibid. 77:3), who looked like Esav (Genesis 33:10), Yaakov’s twin. What made it so hard to beat that angel was that Yaakov Avinu was wrestling with his twin self!
This is why bitul via hitbodedut takes so long: you’ve got to wrestle your “twin” self. You have to admit that your “twin” is both a talmid chakham (aka the good inclination) and a Mafia don (aka the bad), sometimes at the same time! All the character traits that go into becoming either need to be honed, and one has to develop the judgment to know which characteristic to apply when.*
Yaakov Avinu wrestled the angel when he was alone, at night. The best (but not the only) time for hitbodedut is at night when the world is asleep, not rushing madly in pursuit of its temporal objectives. The best (but not the only) place for hitbodedut is a secluded place, little visited by people at any time. Such a place contains little or no residual negative energy. The quiet of the hour and the stillness of the place make it easier to concentrate. They also help remind one of the simple, unavoidable fact that he, too, will one day “cross Maavor Yabok,” i.e., die.
It can take a long time to rid ourselves of bad traits, like anger, and to perfect our good characteristics, like honesty. So there is a real danger that one might quit wrestling before the match is over. Notice! Yaakov Avinu never wins the match outright. He just outlasted the angel. So never despair! No matter how tough your angel is, if you keep on wrestling, just as surely as dawn follows night, you’ll surely win. Amen.
Based on Likutey Moharan I, Lesson #52
© Copyright 2011 Breslov Research Institute
* Rebbe Nachman teaches to wrestle one trait/attitude—e.g., faith, mood, a craving—at a time. Wrestling too many at once is inefficient at best, ineffective at worst. For more about the importance of hitbodedut and how to do it, please read Outpouring of the Soul and Where Earth and Heaven Kiss, available at our website, www.breslov.org.