The Struggle Against the Unknown – Parshat Vayishlach

We have all struggled at some point in our lives. Some of us may even be facing a struggle now. Some struggles have been great some have been minor. A few of them may have been long-lasting while others were over quickly. Maybe we can even point out what we gained from the struggle, maybe we can't. But we have all been there.

In one of the most mysterious passages in all of the Torah, this week's parsha, Parshat Vayishlach, tells a story of such a struggle. Yaakov struggles with a "man" until the first light1 and as Rabbi Berechia points out, we don’t even know who won!2 So what's the purpose of telling the story? Why was there a struggle? Who was this mystery foe? Why at night? What were they even fighting about? So many questions about the struggle. And the Torah offers few, if any, answers.

Maybe that is the point.

The struggle is the goal.

Our society is a goal-oriented society and has been so since the Industrial Revolution started and maybe even earlier. We do things to achieve a certain goal. If we don’t reach our goal, it is considered a failure. In this story, the struggle was the goal. Rabbi Moshe Shochet said in the name of Rabbi Soloveichik that Yaakov was struggling internally as to how he would face his brother. Will he be friendly and brotherly or hostile and belligerent? How would he wish to confront his brother? Yaakov suffered the struggle that night. He had to undergo that struggle to develop the confidence to face his brother.3

Perhaps that is why the mysterious man remains nameless – his identity is not as important as the struggle itself. It has no name for it constantly changes. It can take the form of parnassa, children, relationships, health or any other shape. It can meet us at different points of our lives when we are less or more able to meet this particular struggle. We go through struggles and challenges all the time. The value is in the struggle itself.3 Many times we have been through difficulties yet when looking back we can see how we grew from that experience.

The great American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson introduced us to the following concept - that life is a journey, not a destination4 while Poet Jon Nelson wrote:

As we journey through our lives,
We all take separate paths.
Sometimes they’re filled with sorrow,
Other times they’re full of laughs.
There’s no exact destination,
We just follow where it goes.
We travel until our journey ends,
When that is, nobody knows.5

Being present in the here and now and living life as it greets us is a refreshing concept.6 And we can embrace the journey/struggle equipped with the knowledge that the journey/struggle itself has value for us.

Click here for another logoParsha article on Vayishlach (Money, Money, Money)


  1. Bereishit 32:30
  2. Bereishit Rabba 77:2
  3. In a relatively short class, Rabbi Shochet talks about the value of struggle.
  4. Essays: Second Series by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Second Edition, Essay: II Experience p. 65, James Munroe and Company, Boston. 1844
  5. Nelson, Jon -
  6. Living life as it presents itself to us is a concept discussed by Dr. Viktor Frankl

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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