In the Dark

Then he said: “Let me go, for the dawn has broken.”

And he said: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

He said to him: “What is your name?”

He replied: “Yaakov.”

He said: “No longer will it be said your name is Yaakov, but Israel, for you have struggled with the Divine and with man and have overcome.”

Then Yaakov inquired: “What is your name?”

And he said to him: “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there.

(Beresheet 32:27–30)

After an all-night wrestling encounter with an angel that represented the power of Esav and the Satan in the world, Yaakov Avinu had the above discussion with the loser. His main concern seems to be the name of his adversary. The response: “Why do you ask my name?” is as puzzling as the question. What is the significance of the nighttime encounter and the conversation held at dawn?

There was once a man who was shipwrecked on a desert island. He had no contact with the outside world and was unfamiliar with any of society’s mores or conveniences. When he was found and brought to the city, he experienced for the first time many things that we all take for granted. Sometimes he understood what he saw but many times he did not.

One day he saw a line of people entering through a large lobby into a dark room. He paid at the counter and followed the others inside where he was awed by the sight of several hundred people sitting in rows of chairs staring at giant figures walking on the wall. He stood frozen in the rear of the theater as the scene changed from minute to minute. At one point it became very dark and the man had trouble seeing what was happening. He immediately turned on the lights to illuminate the area where the people had disappeared. A large white screen appeared and it became clear that there was really no one on the wall. The audience turned to the rear of the theater and angrily protested. “Turn the lights off! Don’t you know we can’t see anything unless it is dark?” Silly man! Didn’t he know you can’t see in a theater unless it is dark?

In this world of ours there should be a sign: “Keep the lights off! We only see in the dark!” That is the secret the defeated Angel revealed to Yaakov. The victor in the all-night battle asked the loser to reveal his “NAME” — that is — the essence of his being! Yaakov wanted to know how the Evil Inclination gets everyone to run after him and his wily ways.

The Angel answered: “I win when people are in the dark. My secret weapon is “Why do you ask my name?” Don’t ask. Don’t analyze. Don’t evaluate. That is how he wins.

At dawn, when the night became light, Yaakov’s victory was achieved. When one can see the emptiness of the desires that the evil inclination places before the human being walking in the dark, one can easily avoid his traps. The simple man who turned on the light was the one who revealed that the screen was white and blank. There was really nothing there.

Today the world is very complex. Technology has made everything accessible and almost free. The availability of so many distractions blinds a person — even a very intelligent individual. We think we are more capable of “seeing” but, in fact, we are overwhelmed with diversions that “fog” our vision. To win the battle with one’s evil inclination, one must ask: “What is your name?” Turn on the light of Torah and you, too, will see clearly and ultimately win the war.

Shabbat shalom.