The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Thursday, 7 January 2010

Yaakov's Vision

In this week's sedrah, we read how Yaakov, after ferrying his family across the ford of Yabok, returns alone to the other side - Chazal say that this was to pick up small jugs that he had left behind -  where he is confronted by a man. This man is identified by Chazal as being the Saro shel Eisav – the angel of Eisav, named Samael and, since Eisav epitomises evil, this was the yetzer hora – the evil inclination itself. Yaakov wrestles with this man until daybreak, upon which the man, seeing that he cannot defeat Yaakov, asks Yaakov to let him go. Chazal tell us that since this man was an angel he had to go and sing before Hashem at daybreak. Yaakov refuses to let the man go unless the man blesses him, so the man blesses him, changing Yaakov’s name to Yisroel. Then a most interesting exchange takes place between Yaakov and the man. Yaakov asks the man his name and the man enigmatically replies "Why do you ask my name?" The man then blesses Yaakov and leaves.

This exchange leaves us with two questions. First, why did Yaakov inquire as to the man's name; and second, why did the man respond "Why do you ask my name?"

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out that the Hebrew word for name is shem, which is related to the word sham which means there. The word sham defines the physical location of something, and the word shem defines the essence of something. Rav Leib Chasman uses similar reasoning to answer our two questions. When Yaakov asked the man his name, he was seeking a definition of his essence, he wanted to know what the yetzer hara truly was so he could combat it. This is why, Rav Leib Chasman continues, the yetzer hara responded "Why do you ask my name?" Samael meant there really is no purpose in your asking my name. The yetzer hara is not an actual existence rather a figment of people's imagination, it blinds, tricks and manipulates people, but in reality has no essence – and therefore cannot actually have a name.

This connects beautifully with the Kli Yakar's explanation of Samael’s name. He says that the name Samael comes from the word Sumah which means blind - since Samael’s duty is to blind us from seeing actual reality and thereby lead us to sin. The Kli Yakar also points out that there is a further indirect allusion in Samael’s name. In 'AtBash' (a method of viewing hinted details from words in the Torah by swapping the last letter of the alphabet for the first, and the penultimate letter of the alphabet for the second etc.) Samael spells anavim which mean grapes, grapes are used to make wine which too blinds people from seeing reality. It is also interesting to note, that Samael came to Yaakov at night, a time where physically things are harder to see, and greater faith in G-d is required (see Rashi Tehillim 92:2). It was at this time that the yetzer hara attacked. Perhaps, this is an additional reason why Samael requested to leave at daybreak, when the obscurity of the night had began to lift and it was clearer to see.

Shabbat Shalom

By Gavriel Rosen.

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