The Torah in Parashat Vayishlach tells of the mysterious assailant who began wrestling with Yaakov during the night as he traveled with his family back to Canaan and prepared for his confrontation with Esav. We read that when morning broke, the attacker – whom is commonly identified as an angel – asked that Yaakov let him go, and Yaakov agreed only once the angel conferred a blessing upon him (32:27).
The Gemara in Masekhet Chulin (91a) comments that the angel pleaded to be released because the time had come for him to sing shira (praise to God) in the heavens. A more elaborate version of this account appears in the Yalkut Shimoni, which tells that large numbers of angels descended to the site of Yaakov’s wrestle and urged this angel to return to the heaven to recite shira. The angel then told Yaakov that if he would not be released, he might be killed by these angels on account of the delay in the shira.
Symbolically, this Midrashic account perhaps serves to remind us of the need to “let go” of our struggles after we succeed and prevail. Overcoming our challenges should lead to “shira” – giving praise and expressing gratitude to God, which has the effect of bringing Him glory. Sometimes, however, we are too frightened to celebrate our victory, and we instead insist on continuing waging the battle which has already been won. The trauma of the struggle can cause us to be fearful of “letting go” and experiencing the exultation of triumph. When this happens, the “shira” is lost. God’s praises go unsung, as we wallow in fear rather than give praise for our success.
While there is certainly a danger in prematurely celebrating triumph when danger still looms, there is also a danger in refusing to celebrate triumph when it has been achieved. Chazal here teach us to allow ourselves to celebrate and give praise to God, rather than get stuck in fear and negativity. Like Yaakov, we at times need to fight and struggle, but we must also know when it is safe to release our grip, enjoy the satisfaction of achievement, and express heartfelt “shira” to the Almighty for His ongoing assistance.