The Hebrew language, also called “the Holy Tongue,” has a significantly smaller vocabulary than the English language. Yet it contains deep mystical insights. Every Hebrew word has a root word of two or three letters, which can then take different forms. And so, two words that seemTo wrestle is to come up close to the enemy unrelated often have similarities at the root level. These connections between seemingly unrelated words often express deep mystical truths.

In this week’s Torah portion, 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 20-year stay in Haran. The night before he meets his brother, Jacob encounters a mysterious man, and they wrestle all night long: “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.”1

Who is this man? What is the meaning of this encounter? A closer look at the words used to describe the event allow us to see what is happening on a deeper level.

First, let’s examine the meaning of the Hebrew word used for “wrestle.” The Hebrew word is V-Y-A-V-K (ויאבק). The root of the word is A-V-K (אבק), which is also the root of a seemingly unrelated word, “torch” (A-V-U-K-H אבוקה).

What possible connection can there be between “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 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. He was Esau’s guardian angel disguised as a man. Before Jacob could reconcile with his brother, Esau, he first had to wrestle with Esau's guardian angel. The Kabbalists elaborate, explaining that Jacob and Esau represent conflicting aspects of life: spiritual and material, body and soul. Body and soul are in constant warfare, each trying to draw the other towards what they appreciate and enjoy. The body tries to pull the soul towards materialism, while the soul tries to pull the body towards spirituality.

This struggle between body and soul is not fought via intercontinental ballistic missiles. 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 about the goal of this wrestling matchBody and soul are in constant warfare between body and soul. The goal is not to obliterate material concerns and pleasures from one’s life. The goal is to create a torch. A torch is not a single candle, but many points of combustion merged together. To create spiritual light, the soul must not retreat from the world; it must embrace the material world and fuse it 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, we elevate it. We weave it into our soul’s torch.2