Jacob and the Angel of The Other

Matthew Gindin
9 min readDec 27, 2022
Jacob and Esau by Jakob Steinhardt

Several weeks ago I taught on the Torah portion where Yaa’kov (Jacob) wrestles with a mysterious figure in the night-time, and I though I’d share what I taught here, a meditation on forgiveness, reconciliation, and trauma as the year ends.

Several weeks ago Jews read the weekly Torah portion “Vayeitze,” where Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva in the Holy Land and went north to Haran. The Hasidic Rebbe the Sfas Emes (Yehudah Leib Alter, 1847–1905) points out that this symbolizes the soul leaving behind the well (be’er) of Shabbat (sheva) to go into the materiality of the world- from the place of p’nimiyut (internal spirit) to the place of gashmiyut (mundane concern). In the following Torah portion, “Vayishlach,” he is returning to the Holy Land and therefore to the place of p’nimiyut, which besides internality can also paradoxically mean the Face (panim).

As we shall see Ya’akov will be tested on the way with a meeting with the face of the Other, the face of his brother Esav.

Ya’akov has sent messengers and gifts along before him to his estranged brother and sent his family along ahead of him. He has prepared for possible battle with him and the men that accompany him. Ya’akov will stay alone for the night.

“Vayivater Ya’akov levado- And Ya’akov was left alone (levado)”(Bereishit 32:25). The Midrash says, “Ya’akov was left alone (levado)”- this is like the aloneness of the Holy One who pervades all the universe, says a Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 77:1)”. How is Ya’akov’s aloneness like the aloneness of Hashem?

The Holy One’s aloneness is described as ein od milvado -there is nothing besides Him alone (Devarim 4:35). On one level Ya’akov is in a place of great aloneness where he must rely on his own resources only (R’ Tzvi Elimelech of Dynov, 1783–January 11, 1841, Igre de-Kala). This is one way in which his aloneness is like the Holy One’s- it is an aloneness of self-sufficiency.

Further R’ Tzvi Elimelech and others connect this verse to another one from Yeshaya: “And human haughtiness will be humbled and people’s pride be brought low, YHWH alone ( levado) will be exalted on that day (Yashaya 2:17)” Here Ya’akov lets go of pride and self and is thus attains to an “aloneness with the alone”.