Perhaps the most mysterious incident in the Torah's account of Jacob's life is the night-long battle described in the closing verses of the 32nd chapter of Genesis.

Jacob is preparing for his encounter with Esau the next day. He ferries his family across the Yabbok stream, but "remained behind alone" (according to the Talmud, he stays to retrieve some "small jars" of his that were left behind). There, "a man wrestled with him until dawn." Jacob is injured in the struggle, but is undefeated. At daybreak, Jacob's combatant pleads with him to let him go. Jacob says: "I will not let you until you bless me." The man accedes and confers upon him the name Israel, "because you have struggled with the divine and with men, and you have prevailed." (Israel, Yisrael in the Hebrew, means "he who prevails over the divine.")

Who is this man with whom Jacob wrestled? According to the Sages, he is the "angel of Esau," and their struggle, which "raised dust up to the Supernal Throne," is the cosmic struggle between two nations and two worlds — the spirituality of Israel and the materiality of Edom (Rome). The night through which they wrestled is the long and dark galut ("exile"), in the course of which Jacob's descendants suffer bodily harm and spiritual anguish, but emerge victorious.

The struggle is conducted on two planes — "with the divine and with men." It is a struggle with men: in nearly 4000 years of galut we have wrestled with the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany and Islamic terror. These and many others did their worst to destroy us, yet we have prevailed.

It is also a struggle with the soul of galut, with its Divine essence and purpose. Thrice daily we plead, protest and contest before the Supernal Throne: How much longer? Yes, it is true that these struggles have roused the highest and deepest potentials of the Jewish soul. Yes, it is true that galut has unearthed reserves of faith and wisdom such as would never have been actualized by a tranquil people enjoying a tranquil existence. Yes, it is true that we are fulfilling the cosmic plan in retrieving the Sparks of Holiness buried in the darkest reaches of G‑d's creation. But how much longer must we linger over these "small jars"? And surely You, the essence of Kindness and Goodness, could have devised a way to achieve all this without all the evil and pain!

It is a long and difficult struggle till dawn. But in the end we triumph over men and prevail over the divine as well. For this is the essence of Israel.