The Torch

Friday, 27 November, 2015 - 7:36 am

The Torch

The Hebrew language, also called “the Holy Tongue”, has a significantly smaller vocabulary than the English language, yet it contains great mystical insight.. Every Hebrew word has a root word, comprised of two or three letters, which can then take different forms. When we dig down to the root, we often find similarities between the roots of two words, which on the surface seem unrelated. These connections between seemingly unrelated words, often express deep mystical truths.

In this week’s Parsha, there is a beautiful example of a connection between two seemingly unrelated words. The Torah tells the story of Jacob returning to the land of Israel, traveling to meet his brother Esau, after a twenty year stay in Charan. The night before he meets his brother, Jacob encounters a mysterious man, and they wrestle all night long:

And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.[1]

Who was this man? What is the meaning of this encounter?

We must first examine the meaning of the Hebrew word for “wrestle”. The Hebrew word is “VayeAVeK” (ויאבק) which means struggle; wrestle; fight. The root of the word is AVK (אבק). The same root is also the root of a seemingly unrelated word; the root AVK (אבק) is also the root of the word “torch” (AVuKa - אבוקה).  

What possible connection can there be between the words “wrestle” and “torch”?

There are many forms of battle. In the modern era battles are fought from great distances. Soldiers sitting at computers in Nevada are operating drones that conduct warfare over the skies of the Middle East and Africa. Wrestling, however, is a completely different form of battle. To wrestle is to come up close to the enemy. Two people wrestling with each other are literally hugging each other. 

Let’s return to the story of Jacob wrestling with the mysterious man. The sages teach that the man wrestling with Jacob was no ordinary man, the man was Esau’s guardian angel disguised as a man. Before Jacob could reconcile with his brother Esau he must first wrestle with Esau's guardian angel. The Kabbalists elaborate and explain that Jacob and Esau represent the spiritual and material respectively, the body and soul. Body and soul are in constant warfare, each trying to draw the other to what they appreciate and enjoy. The body tries to pull the soul to materialism, while the soul tries to pull the body to spirituality. 

This struggle between body and soul is not fought via intercontinental ballistic missiles. The body and soul are not waging warfare from different continents. Body and soul are literally hugging each other, they are as close to each other as two entities can possibly be. Body and soul are wrestling.

With its use of a single root word for “wrestle” and “torch” the “Holy Tongue” teaches us what the goal of the wrestling match between body and soul is. The goal is not to obliterate the material aspects and pleasures from one’s life. The goal is to create a torch. A torch is not a single candle, but rather it is many candles merged together. To create spiritual light the soul must not retreat from the world, but instead it must embrace the material world, it must fuse the material into a torch of light. It must use the objects and pleasures of the material world as a tool to spread spiritual light. It must use the material blessings it has and fuse them into a torch producing light, warmth and inspiration to illuminate the world.

We wrestle with the material, we embrace it and elevate it. We weave it into our soul’s torch.[2]


[1] Genesis 32:25.

[2] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, 19 Kislev 5721.

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