These weeks are the ones when we read in the Torah about a random man that seems to appear out of nowhere. In Parshat Vayishlach, an unnamed man appears in the middle of the night by the Yabok crossing to engage in the first recorded wrestling match in history with Yaakov Avinu. In Parshat Vayeishev, a man appears to Yosef in the middle of a field to inform Yosef where his brothers were located. It seems in both of these instances that God is directly intervening in the history of our people when an unnamed man appears out of nowhere. In Yosef’s case, the function of the unnamed man is to ensure that Yosef finds his brothers and is taken to Egypt. This, of course, results in the Founding Family moving to Egypt, becoming slaves, being redeemed and having that experience as a central piece of our very existence as a nation.
What about the unnamed man who suddenly appears in the middle of the night and wrestles with Yaakov Avinu? How does this “man” shape the course of our history? I believe that he gave Yaakov Avinu confidence. The Rashbam asserts that, on the eve of meeting Esav, Yaakov Avinu woke up his family in the middle of the night in order to flee, but the unnamed man forced Yaakov to remain, to fight, and to do so confidently, because Yaakov ultimately defeated this stranger.
This encounter changed the destiny of our people because it gave us the confidence throughout history when we face mighty armies, when we face a world that thinks we are strange, that we are different, that we have an archaic set of values and that we don’t deserve to exist. We Jews defy history. No nation in the history of the of the world has ever been exiled from its land, lost its national existence and language, and then returned as a people to that identical homeland and revived its language. No nation, that is, with the exception of the Jewish nation. What is the secret of our longevity? Why did we not conform to the majority surrounding culture? It was the confidence that Yaakov Avinu developed from the wrestling match with the unnamed man that he could directly confront Esav, fight him if necessary and also have the courage to tell Esav that he must part ways with him.
This confidence is so needed today. We live in a world when a BDS-supporter, Linda Sarsour, in invited to deliver a public talk on anti-semitism in the New School, but Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is denied the opportunity to speak at a Princeton University Hillel event. We live in a world where to mark the 70th anniversary of the historic UN resolution in favor of Jewish state, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to disavow Israeli ties to Jerusalem as part of six anti-Israel resolutions that it approved by a vote of 151-6, with nine abstentions. Our response is not to retreat, but to confidently confront those who deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and to Israel and those who pretend to be Israel’s friends but in reality are anti-semites. We were given the blessing of confidence by the unnamed man in his encounter with Yaakov Avinu thousands of years ago.