Saturday, December 01, 2012

Threatening Encounters With Angels

I was learning with my husband and I happened upon an interesting realization. Both Yaakov and Moshe encounter angels in threatening situations, but what transpires is obviously different.

First, let's look at the texts (because, as my husband correctly notes, this is a stretch- the wording is not similar).

Text 1- Jacob

כה  וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר.25 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
כו  וַיַּרְא, כִּי לֹא יָכֹל לוֹ, וַיִּגַּע, בְּכַף-יְרֵכוֹ; וַתֵּקַע כַּף-יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב, בְּהֵאָבְקוֹ עִמּוֹ.26 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him.
כז  וַיֹּאמֶר שַׁלְּחֵנִי, כִּי עָלָה הַשָּׁחַר; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחֲךָ, כִּי אִם-בֵּרַכְתָּנִי.27 And he said: 'Let me go, for the day breaketh.' And he said: 'I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.'
כח  וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, מַה-שְּׁמֶךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, יַעֲקֹב.28 And he said unto him: 'What is thy name?' And he said: 'Jacob.'
כט  וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ--כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל:  כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל.29 And he said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.'
ל  וַיִּשְׁאַל יַעֲקֹב, וַיֹּאמֶר הַגִּידָה-נָּא שְׁמֶךָ, וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ, שָׁם.30 And Jacob asked him, and said: 'Tell me, I pray thee, thy name.' And he said: 'Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?' And he blessed him there.

Text 2- Moshe

כד  וַיְהִי בַדֶּרֶךְ, בַּמָּלוֹן; וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ יְהוָה, וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הֲמִיתוֹ.24 And it came to pass on the way at the lodging-place, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.
כה  וַתִּקַּח צִפֹּרָה צֹר, וַתִּכְרֹת אֶת-עָרְלַת בְּנָהּ, וַתַּגַּע, לְרַגְלָיו; וַתֹּאמֶר, כִּי חֲתַן-דָּמִים אַתָּה לִי.25 Then Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet; and she said: 'Surely a bridegroom of blood art thou to me.'
כו  וַיִּרֶף, מִמֶּנּוּ; אָז, אָמְרָה, חֲתַן דָּמִים, לַמּוּלֹת.  {פ}26 So He let him alone. Then she said: 'A bridegroom of blood in regard of the circumcision.' {P}

This is very obviously not an exact match or parallel, because the wording is not the same. Elokim is the name of God (or the name that connotes the angel) by Yaakov, whereas Shem Havaya is used by Moshe. But if you look at it beyond the text, not as an exact literary parallel or even as an echo, but as an encounter with an angel that is threatening, it's still very interesting.

Similarities between the Encounters   Differences between the Encounters          
*Both Yaakov and Moshe are making their way back to the place they were born from a place where they have stayed-over and acquired a wife (Laban's house/ Yisro's house)

*Both Yaakov and Moshe have their wives and families with them

*In both scenarios, a threatening angel appears

*In both scenarios, the presence of the angel causes something transformative to occur (Yaakov to Yisrael, uncircumcised child to circumcised child)

*In both scenarios, the original object of the attack (Yaakov/ Moshe) departs with their life

*Per the commentaries, each encounter transpires because the protagonist failed to fulfill his responsibilities. Yaakov did not tithe appropriately and Moshe did not circumcise his child when he stopped over at the hotel.
*In Yaakov's case, he is left alone with his family safe on the other side of the river; in Moshe's case, his wife and child are with him

*In one scenario, the angel is only struggling with Yaakov; in the other, the angel desires to kill Moshe

* The first transformation takes place because Yaakov requests a blessing; the second transformation takes place because Tzipporah recognizes this angel can only be appeased by the milah taking place

*However, Yaakov's thigh is harmed (Gid HaNasheh)

What I find very interesting is that the major difference between the encounters seems to occur due to who is accompanying the protagonist. In Yaakov's case, where he is left alone, he struggles with the angel and prevails, but not totally unharmed. His thigh is touched; he is changed. From then on, he limps.

In contrast to this, because Moshe's wife was with him when this encounter occurred, he had someone else upon whom to rely, someone to help him face the foe. Tzipporah's quick-thinking and understanding of why the angel had come allowed her to save her husband's life. Moshe departs totally unscathed.

Perhaps this is the idea of an ezer k'negdo in action; when the wife appears with her husband, she is able to save him. When she is not with him, even if it is for a good reason (Yaakov wanted to protect his wives and children and therefore made sure they were all safely in camp before returning to the other side of the river), he does not have his quick-thinking other half to aid him in discerning what the angel wants and how to disarm it.

Why did the angel touch Yaakov's thigh vs any other part of his body?

I haven't researched this, but I wonder if perhaps it is an allusion to (as the commentators say) the promise that Yaakov had not fulfilled to tithe his property. In Genesis 24:9 we read:

ט  וַיָּשֶׂם הָעֶבֶד אֶת-יָדוֹ, תַּחַת יֶרֶךְ אַבְרָהָם אֲדֹנָיו; וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ, עַל-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה.9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

We generally understand this to mean that the servant swore on a sacred object (in the same way that we take oaths and swear on the Bible), Avraham's milah.

I wonder if perhaps the angel touching Yaakov's thigh was an allusion to promises made and not kept? (Obviously, this doesn't entirely work, because then it would be more appropriate for the angel to have touched Yaakov's milah rather than his thigh).

What I was thinking, though, was that perhaps if Yaakov's wife had been with him, she would have been able to discern the fact that the angel was there because Yaakov had not fulfilled the tithe, could have informed the angel that they would do it right then and perhaps Yaakov's thigh would not have to be harmed. I don't have textual support for this idea, but just thought it might be interesting.


It's Biblical said...

A few notes:

"Kaf" translates to "spoon". Which means he was injured on the "spoon shaped" area of his thigh. Namely, the "ischium", I believe.

This is why the "Gid Hanasheh" is prohibited only in animals. A fowl's "backside" does not resemble a human's.

Rashi quotes that the angel appeared to Moshe and Tzipporah as a large snake (perhaps an anaconda) that first swallowed him head-first till his groin, and then feet-first until his groin. And that's how Tzipporah discerned it's all about the sin of delaying their son's Bris.

I don't see how anybody could have discerned why an angel is fighting Yaakov.
Not to mention that he wasn't recognized as an angel until the fight was over and he disclosed that he is an angel (Sar shel Eisav) and he needs to immediately return to heaven to say Shira.

I'll say this about Tzipporah: she was a very brave (and quick-thinking) woman not to have panicked and gone running. Or fainted.

As the saying goes, "behind every successful man there's a woman".

harry-er than them all said...

This is a very interesting thought- Just a thought to add to the question; when Lavan confronted Yaakov for leaving with his daughters and says his teraphim were missing, his response was to search the entire entourage and place what does not belong to him between them. Which means that he had a very exact calculation as to what belonged to him and what belonged to Lavan. It seems strange that for someone who had such a exacting calculation to have not tithed properly or at all.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your Torah insights, I really enjoy reading them!
It's interesting that you associate Yaakov's damaged thigh with his failure to fulfill his promise. The peshat of the thigh is not that it's the place of milah but that comman practice in those days was to take an oath by placing one's hand upon a person's thigh. This is known. As such, Yaako'v injury is an even more direct reminder of his failure to fulfill his promise to G-d; inasmuch as the thigh represents the taking of an oath, a broken thigh represents the breaking of the oath.

AJ said...

Are you going to blog about the new revelations that Rabbi Lamm didn't report accusations of sexual abuse in the 1970's and 1980's? I'm a graduate of YU, and this article makes me sick to my stomach.

in the vanguard said...

Perhaps the death threat to Moshe derived from their neglect of the mitzvah of performing a Brit, whereas by Yaakov there was no mitzvah involved in fetching a few minor leftovers.

Theo said...

Yay! Only 2 days until Chana's Annual Masquerade Ball! (Did we ever have the unveiling from last year's ball?)

smoo said...

From R. Frand lecture:
What is the relevance of sar shel esav hitting Yakov's gid hanasheh and our consequent command not to eat of that part of the animal?

Rewind to Toldot. Yaakov is cooking mourner meal for his father Yitzhak, who is mourning death of Avraham. Esav is uncaring and oblivious, going about his own business. Yaakov challenges him. Is this what a bacor does? His father is mourning and he isn't attending to him? The bacor is a reflection of the father, the one to take over when pa dies. Yaakov is displaying proper qualities so he deserves becora.

Fast forward. Yaakov went back for jugs but he is left alone. Who left him alone? Where were HIS kids? Why weren't they there to help, to protect their father??? So sar shel Esav comes and says, "You claim you have the becor qualities, well you didn't impart them to your children!" He hits Yaakov in his yerach. (we use term yotzai yeraicho to denote the one who comes from you, from your loins, ie your children). This symbolism reminded Yaakov where he was deficient.

As punishment and as an eternal reminder that we were not there for our father, we can't have from that portion that represents (deficiency in) the son and we should not repeat that error ever again.


smoo said...

Alternative approach to Esav's angel injuring Yaakov's yerach based on R. Sacks.

Yaakov is still was struggling with his identity, trying to be like Esav, going back for his material goods that were left behind. Esav's sar comes and 'reminds' him that the material wealth is Esav's blessing. Yaakov needs to focus on yotzei yeraicho his children!