A Wounded General

Yaakov fights the angel and succeeds. However, he emerges from the battle with an injury – “…and he limped upon his thigh.” (Genesis 32, 32) Yaakov thoroughly prepared himself for the conflict with Esau. He prepared in three ways: by giving a gift, by praying and by preparing for war, if need be. At that exact moment, when war was imminent, Yaakov – the General – was wounded! There must have been a sense of devastation. How can he lead a struggle in such a state?

Clearly, this injury was inflicted intentionally. This was no mere accident, but rather something ordained from above. The injury occurs precisely as war was about to ensue. According to our Sages, Yaakov was recovering from his wounds immediately after parting ways with Esau. When the Torah relates that “Yaakov came to Shalem, the city of Shechem”, Shalem may be understood as the name of the city (as the Rashbam explains), however, Rashi, according to our Sages, explained that Yaakov was healed. He was Shalem, or whole, in in spirit, in body and in wealth.

Why does this injury relate to the struggle with Esau?

One possible explanation is that the injury was inflicted in order to have Yaakov internalize that, even with the best preparations, victory can only be achieved with the help of Hashem. The injury highlights Yaakov’s new state of helplessness, and the fact that despite the need for preparedness for war, it is Hashem Himself who determines the outcome.

Yet, we find here another point. Yaakov fights the angel – the Minister of Esau. Yaakov engages him in the spiritual struggle between Am Yisrael and Esau. This is the primary battle. In this battle, Yaakov was triumphant. While limping on his thigh, Yaakov does not give up. He fights, he succeeds and even receives a blessing from Esau’s Minister.

Following the spiritual victory, the material victory was assured. Now, although he still limps, he is truly happy. He can feel the sun shining upon him, and he can sense that Hashem saved him from the battle with Esau’s Minister. Now, although he still limps, it does not hamper his ability to do battle. In fact, it is possible that following his spiritual victory, Esau also undergoes a change. Despite his intentions to wage war, he may have actually internalized the fact that he has no chance to vanquish Yaakov.

In our times, we also face a cruel enemy. But we must always remember that the essence of this war is religious and spiritual.

        אם הדברים יהיו ברורים לנו, ונחוש אותם היטב, הרי שגם את המלחמה הפיזית נצליח להכרי