Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Ki sarisa im Elokim v’im anashim vatuchal (Bereishis 32:29)

After ferrying his family across a stream, Yaakov returned to the other side to retrieve some small pitchers that he had forgotten. He was confronted by an angel, who wrestled with him throughout the night. After realizing that he could not overcome Yaakov, the angel informed him that because he had successfully wrestled with the Divine and with men, his name would be changed to Yisrael.

Rashi explains that “with men” refers to Yaakov’s triumphs over Lavan and Esav. As the parashah begins with Yaakov being forced to give a substantial gift to Esav and to lower himself by bowing to him in an attempt to placate his wrath, in what way can this be considered victorious? Wasn’t it Esav who emerged from their encounter with his ego intact after Yaakov was forced to flatter and capitulate to him?

Harav Moshe Soloveitchik explains that this question is based on a widespread and fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of “success.” Victory is not defined as subduing and crushing the other side. Rather, it must be viewed in terms of one’s objectives. A person who successfully accomplishes his goals, whatever they may be, is victorious.

Yaakov’s goal was to be able to pursue his service of Hashem and to raise his children to continue in his pious ways without unnecessary distractions. If the only way to accomplish that objective was to give Esav a considerable number of animals as a present and to humble himself before his arrogant brother, he was quite happy to do so. Yaakov was able to keep his eye “on the prize,” focusing on the larger picture of his more important spiritual goals. Because he pacified his brother’s wrath and was able to send him away and return to his service of Hashem, the Torah considers Yaakov victorious.

Harav Mordechai of Chernobyl was extremely poor. One year he didn’t have enough money to purchase a lulav and esrog for Sukkos. In order to raise the necessary funds, he decided to sell a precious family heirloom. When his wife saw his beautiful esrog, she questioned where he obtained the money to buy it. When she heard what he had done, selling a priceless family possession for an item he would use for only one week, she became furious.

In her rage she threw the esrog to the ground. The impact damaged the esrog and disqualified it for use. The wise Rav Mordechai remarked, “My treasured family heirloom I don’t have. Now a kosher esrog I also don’t have. At the very least, I will remain calm and preserve my one remaining possession: my shalom bayis.”

If a person’s goal in marriage is to selfishly make sure that everything is done in accordance with his personal opinions and preferences, any time that his spouse acquiesces he has succeeded in meeting his objectives, and any time that he is forced to give in, he has failed. While this model may be comfortable and familiar, it will not help a person find long-term happiness and satisfaction.

Rather, a person should strive to be mature enough to make his needs secondary to the greater cause and ultimate goal of establishing an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect so that the Shechinah will find a comfortable dwelling place in his home. A person who does so may find himself compromising more than he would have liked, but his ability to do so will allow him to successfully accomplish his true goal. He will reap the immeasurable benefits and security of a warm and loving relationship, which is worth more than all of life’s mundane trivialities combined, and he will recognize that doing so makes him the real winner.

Q: After Yaakov emerged victorious from his battle with the angel, he asked the angel to reveal his name. The angel refused to divulge this information, responding (32:30), “Why are you asking for my name?” What was the angel’s name, and why did he refuse to disclose it?

Q: Rashi writes (35:8) that the date of Rivkah’s death was hidden so that people wouldn’t curse the womb from which Esav emerged. Why wasn’t the date of Yitzchak’s death concealed for the same reason, as he was Esav’s father?

A: Although at first glance the angel seemed to refuse to reveal its name, the Chasam Sofer suggests that the angel did indeed answer Yaakov’s question. The name of an angel is a reflection of his particular mission in this world. In this case, the purpose of the angel, who was Esav’s guardian angel (Rashi 32:25), was to teach Yaakov — and all of his descendants — the importance of distancing oneself from the wicked.

The name that most appropriately reflects this purpose is “Why are you asking for my name,” which denotes the utter waste of time in being involved in any way with him and all that he represents.

A: The Maharal answers that the Gemara (Niddah 31a) teaches that there are three partners in creating a child: Hashem, the father, and the mother. Each of them contributes different components and features to the child. The mother provides the blood, flesh and earthly components that are associated with the base parts of a person, whereas the father’s contributions are more elevated. As a result, the wickedness of the child is more dependent on the components he received from his mother, and for this reason people would hold Rivkah more responsible for Esav’s actions than Yitzchak.

Alternatively, Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, suggests that because Yitzchak was old and blind and remained in his house, people ceased talking about him and there was no concern that they would curse him for Esav’s actions.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email