Disagreements. We all have them, even with the people we love. That no two people can agree on every issue is a fact of life. "Our mindset," say our sages, "is as unique as our facial features."1

While every married couple has disagreements, not every married couple becomes disagreeable. The difference is in the reaction to the disagreement. Some couples discuss their disagreements, others debate them.

In a debate the interlocutor is viewed as an opponent and the intent is to defeat him. In a discussion the interlocutor is viewed as a partner and the intent is twofold: to listen to your partner's position and to articulate your own. Discussions lead to compromise, understanding and solutions; debates lead to arguments, which foment discord and stress.

The rate at which relationships survive their disagreements is in inverse proportion to the rate at which discussions become arguments. Couples who discuss their issues disagree with each other's opinions; couples who debate their issues disagree with each other.

We are far more willing to tolerate differences with those who validate us than with those who don't. As long as our interlocutors value us and our opinions, even as we disagree with them, we are prepared to entertain their opinions and even reconsider our own.

Here we must inject a note of caution. Before we lower our guard with interlocutors who seem to value us and our opinions, we must ensure that they are indeed our friends. In a friend's hands such trust can enhance a relationship; in the hands of a foe such trust can be cunningly exploited.

Relevance of a Repeated Phrase

This helps to explain a curiosity in the Biblical narrative of Jacob's struggle with the angel.

And a man wrestled with him (Jacob) until the break of dawn but when the man saw that he could not overcome him, he struck the hollow of his thigh, and Jacob's thigh was strained as he wrestled with him."2

The Torah is usually economical with its words, yet here the verse ends with a reminder that Jacob was involved in wrestling despite having earlier informed us of this fact.

The Biblical word employed here for "and he wrestled" is vaye'avek. Biblical commentary offers two interpretations. The first is rooted in the Hebrew translation of the word avak, which means "dust" — their fierce wrestling kicked up a cloud of dust. The second is rooted in the Aramaic translation of the word avak, which means "to bond" — "in the manner of wrestlers who throw their arms around each other in tight embrace."3

The two translations are slightly different but when taken together they lend new insight into the nature of Jacob's struggle. The first translation clearly connotes a struggle, a serious attempt to defeat each other, that kicks up a cloud of dust. The second translation connotes love rather than animus. They embrace each other, something lovers usually do.

Love as a Fighting Tactic

Hostility and love can both be utilized as fighting tactics. When a person is assaulted, he naturally braces himself for the impact. He guards his flank, secures his position and, if possible, regroups and launches a counter attack.

This is only when one is alert to the danger and wise to the presence of the attacker. When the attacker disguises his intent in gestures of friendship and love while clandestinely planning an attack, one is caught off guard.

This is what happened between Jacob and the angel. When the angel first attacked Jacob, he tried to overpower him with force. They wrestled and kicked up a storm. Jacob, however, saw the attack coming and braced himself for the struggle. He fought back successfully and the angel perceived that he could not overcome him with force.

The angel then tried another tack. He attacked Jacob with love. He presented himself with warmth and friendship, apologized for previous aggressions and beguiled Jacob with acceptance and peace. Jacob soon lowered his guard and exposed a vulnerability that the angel immediately exploited. He struck and injured "the hollow of Jacob's thigh."

This is why the Torah repeats the fact that there was a struggle. "And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn," describes the first phase of the struggle, when the angel fought with animosity and force. "And Jacob's thigh was strained as he wrestled with him," describes the second phase of the struggle, the phase of love that the angel temporarily won.

The angel manipulated human nature for his own purposes. He turned a fierce debate into a calm discussion and, in doing so, deluded Jacob, persuading him to lower his guard and view his opponent as a partner and friend.


This transformation is the story of Jewish history. When we are persecuted and afflicted, we respond by raising our religious profile and by clinging to our identity and traditions.

When we enter a phase of prosperity and are accepted by the nations around us, we can be lulled into a false sense of complacency. We lower our guard and assimilate into the cultures of our host nations.4

Assimilation hurts us in ways that our enemies cannot. It strikes "the hollow of our thigh," preventing us from standing tall and disfiguring our pride. We merge our traditions with those of our host culture and reject, or are ashamed of, our Jewishness.

Yet the march of assimilation will not overcome us because our destiny is assured by G‑d. Just like Jacob, whose thigh was healed as the sun rose, so too will our ability to stand firm return as soon as the sun rises and shines.5

The prophet Isaiah promised that "the sun will shine" in the messianic era, when the aura of the divine will be manifest. Those warm divine rays will heal our "thigh" and strengthen our posture. We will once again stand tall, strong and proud of our Judaism.6

Jacob's struggle foretold the future. Even in times of assimilation, even in the dark of night, we must know that the sun will rise and that our spiritual stature will recover.

Knowledge, however, is not enough. We must also take action. By resisting assimilation and recommitting to our traditions we actually rekindle the soul's flame and trigger our sunrise.7