Monday, December 12, 2016

Telling Right from Wrong

וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּוֹ וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר. וַיַּרְא כִּי לֹא יָכֹל לוֹ וַיִּגַּע בְּכַף יְרֵכוֹ וַתֵּקַע כַּף יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב בְּהֵאָבְקוֹ עִמּוֹ... עַל כֵּן לֹא יֹאכְלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת גִּיד הַנָּשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר עַל כַּף הַיָּרֵךְ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה כִּי נָגַע בְּכַף יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב בְּגִיד הַנָּשֶׁה.

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov struggled against Eisav’s guardian angel until he finally defeated it, but not before the angel wounded him in the “gid hanasheh” sinew of his thigh. This was a spiritual struggle, which corresponds to our own struggles against the yetzer hara. The Toldos Yakov Yosef explains the verse, “Therefore the children of Israel do not eat the gid hanasheh until this day” to mean that the spiritual damage caused to Yaakov Avinu still afflicts us to this day.

What was this damage? How are we meant to cope with it, or perhaps even heal it?

Yaakov Avinu prayed, “Rescue me from my brother, from Eisav.” We struggle against the yetzer hara on two levels. On one level, we fight against the inclinations of “Eisav” that we know are evil. This is simply a battle of willpower.

However, there is another, harder battle against the yetzer hara that poses as our brother and friend. It warps our judgment and distorts our values, until we cannot even tell good from evil, or right from wrong.

This is the hardest struggle of all. This kind of yetzer hara is characterized as a wound on the thigh, since it undermines our stability. When we do not even know what we stand for, we cannot stand strong. Yaakov fought Eisav’s angel throughout the night until the daybreak, since this aspect of the yetzer hara is characterized as the dark night, in which we cannot see the way before us.

The three Avos instituted the three daily prayers. Yaakov instituted the prayer of Maariv for night, so that we could pray for the clarity to see through the darkness until the morning of Redemption arrives. We pray for Hashem’s help to guide us on the right path, since it is not always obvious.

The verse tells us that when Yaakov was left alone, the angel attacked him. From here we see that when we are alone, we are most susceptible to the yetzer hara that confuses right with wrong.  By gathering together with others in love and friendship, we benefit from the special Divine favor that guides the united community down the right path.

Thus, the Torah provides us with two remedies for this yetzer hara. Through prayer and unity, we can tell wrong from right and maintain our values throughout the night of Golus, until the morning of Redemption arrives.

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