The Torah in Parashat Vayishlach tells the mysterious story of the assailant who attacked Yaakov as he stood alone on the riverbank at one point during his journey back to the Land of Israel. After a nightlong wrestle, Yaakov ultimately prevailed and subdued his attacker, who then begged Yaakov to set him free. Yaakov replied, “I will not release you until you bless me” (32:27). The attacker – who is commonly identified as an angel – agreed, and he proclaimed that Yaakov’s name would now be “Yisrael,” signifying his having triumphed (“sarita”) over his adversaries.
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 78:2) relates that the angel initially refused to grant Yaakov a blessing, giving several different excuses, but Yaakov nevertheless insisted. At one point in this exchange related by the Midrash, Yaakov drew the angel’s attention to the story of the angels who visited Avraham, and who granted him a blessing before they left. Yaakov thus demanded that he be treated the same way, and that the angel give him a blessing. The angel responded, “Those were sent for this purpose, but I was not sent for this purpose.” Yaakov nevertheless insisted.
Many have pointed to Yaakov’s confrontation with the angel as representing our struggles and confrontations with evils of all different kinds. Yaakov’s triumph over the angel after a long, difficult battle signifies our ability to overcome adversity and challenges, while highlighting the need for patience, courage and persistence. And just as Yaakov demanded that the angel bless him before leaving, so must we seek to secure a “blessing” from every challenge and hardship which we face in life. Our goal must be not just to triumph over adversity, but to transform every difficult situation into a “blessing,” into a source of growth, something from which we gain.
If so, then we may perhaps suggest an explanation for the angel’s excuse – “Those were sent for this purpose, but I was not sent for this purpose.” We tend to view everything in life as either a “blessing” or a “curse,” as either positive or negative. We label some “angels” that come into our lives as having been sent to “bless” us, to benefit us, like the angels who visited Avraham, and others as having been sent only to “wrestle” with us, to challenge us, to cause us pain and anguish, like the angel who assailed Yaakov. The Midrash teaches that we should insist on forcing all the “angels” who come our way to bless us, even when it appears that they were not sent for this purpose. We should strive to have the strength to turn all our “angels” into blessings – even those circumstances which, like Yaakov’s assailant, cause us pain and struggle. Yaakov ignored the angel’s claim that he was sent only to challenge him and not to bless him – showing us that everything that happens in life can be a source of blessing, if we have the strength, fortitude and wisdom to perceive it as such.