Who Is That Man?(Sample Response - Click "Visualize" to see the final product)

When Yaakov was all alone, an איש came and wrestled with him. Many commentators have discussed the identity of the איש. Who was he? What was the purpose of the struggle? What message was G-d conveying?

Below, you will find the פסוק from the תורה along with several commentaries.

  1. Visualize the page (File - Visualize)
  2. Move the texts around and place them on the page in an order that makes sense to you. Which texts are in agreement? Which disagree? Which texts prove each other?
  3. Add a summary paragraph explaining why you put things where you did.
  4. Add your own opinion about the identity of the איש and the message that he was bringing.

(כה) וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר׃

(25) Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.

(כא) וְע֛וֹד אֲנִ֥י מְדַבֵּ֖ר בַּתְּפִלָּ֑ה וְהָאִ֣ישׁ גַּבְרִיאֵ֡ל אֲשֶׁר֩ רָאִ֨יתִי בֶחָז֤וֹן בַּתְּחִלָּה֙ מֻעָ֣ף בִּיעָ֔ף נֹגֵ֣עַ אֵלַ֔י כְּעֵ֖ת מִנְחַת־עָֽרֶב׃

(21) while I was uttering my prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had previously seen in the vision, was sent forth in flight and reached me about the time of the evening offering.

(יג) וַיְהִ֗י בִּֽהְי֣וֹת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ֮ בִּירִיחוֹ֒ וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה־אִישׁ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד לְנֶגְדּ֔וֹ וְחַרְבּ֥וֹ שְׁלוּפָ֖ה בְּיָד֑וֹ וַיֵּ֨לֶךְ יְהוֹשֻׁ֤עַ אֵלָיו֙ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ הֲלָ֥נוּ אַתָּ֖ה אִם־לְצָרֵֽינוּ׃

(13) Once, when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked him, “Are you one of us or of our enemies?”

(ב) וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה׃

(2) Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground,

(כה) ויאבק - מלאך עמו שלא יוכל לברוח ויראה קיום דברו של הקב"ה שלא יזיקהו עשו.

(25) ויאבק, an angel engaged him in a physical fight, his purpose being to prevent Yaakov from fleeing. Only in this way could G’d’s promise to Yaakov that Esau would not harm him be fulfilled.

(כה) איש מלאך, וכן והנה איש עומד לנגדו (יהושע ה') והאיש גבריאל (דניאל ט') ונקראו אישים המלאכים ושמדברים עם בני אדם ונראים להם בצורת איש כמוהם במראה או בהקיץ, ושלח האל זה המלאך ליעקב לחזק לבו שלא ירא מעשו, כי לא יכול לו, לפיכך נאבק עמו ולא יכול להפילו, כן עשו לא יוכל לו, ונאבק עמו עד עלות השחר, רמז לו בזה, כי תהיה לו אורה אחר שחשכה, כי הצרה נמשלת ללילה וחשכה לפיכך בא אליו בלילה ונאבק עמו עד עלות השחר, רמז לו שיהיה לו רוח והצלה שהוא כאור אחר חשכה:

(25) איש, the same type of איש as in Joshua 5,13, i.e. an angel. This was the angel Gavriel, described as איש par excellence in Daniel 9,21. The reason why these angels are called איש is because they appear to the people with whom they converse in human guise. The types of angels who speak with man are referred to as איש, as they appear either in a vision or while the person to whom they appear is fully awake. G’d had sent this angel to Yaakov to strengthen his courage, not to fear Esau. If Yaakov could prevail over an angel, surely he had no reason to be afraid of an encounter with someone like Esau! The fact that the struggle lasted until daybreak was an allusion to Yaakov that after a period of night, i.e. problems, adversity, there would come a period of light, peace and prosperity coupled with security..

וַיָּשַׂר יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַלְאָךְ וַיּוּכַל לוֹ לַיְלָה, וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה.

and Yisrael dominated an angel and was able to withstand Him at night [Genesis 32:25-30], and it was in the middle of the night.

(ב)... וכן אומר עוד בענין יעקב באמרו "ויאבק איש עמו" - שהוא בצורת הנבואה אחר שהתבאר באחרונה שהוא 'מלאך'. והוא כענין אברהם בשוה אשר הקדים ספור כללי "וירא אליו יי וגו'" אחרי כן התחיל לבאר איך היה זה. וכן ביעקב אמר "ויפגעו בו מלאכי אלוקים" ואחר כן התחיל לבאר איך קרה עד ש'פגעו בו' - ואמר שהוא שלח שלוחים ופעל ועשה "ויותר יעקב לבדו וגו'" - וזהו 'מלאכי אלוקים' הנאמר עליהם תחילה 'ויפגעו בו מלאכי אלוקים'; וזה ההתאבקות והדיבור כולו - 'במראה הנבואה'. .. - כל זה 'במראה הנבואה' לא יעלה בדעתך שיש שם ראית 'מלאך' או שמע דברי 'מלאך' אלא 'במראה הנבואה' או 'בחלום של נבואה' כמו שהושרש "במראה אליו אתודע בחלום אדבר בו". ...

(2)... The same, I hold, is the case when it is said in reference to Jacob, "And a man wrestled with him" (Gen. 32:25); this took place in a prophetic vision, since it is expressly stated in the end (ver. 31) that it was an angel. The circumstances are here exactly the same as those in the vision of Abraham, where the general statement, "And the Lord appeared to him," etc., is followed by a detailed description. Similarly the account of the vision of Jacob begins, "And the angels of God met him" (Gen. 32:2); then follows a detailed description how it came to pass that they met him; namely, Jacob sent messengers, and after having prepared and done certain things, "he was left alone," etc., "and a man wrestled with him" (ibid. ver. 24). By this term "man" [one of] the angels of God is meant, mentioned in the phrase, "And angels of God met him"; the wrestling and speaking was entirely a prophetic vision. . All this passed in a prophetic vision. Do not imagine that an angel is seen or his word heard otherwise than in a prophetic vision or prophetic dream, according to the principle laid down:--"I make myself known unto him in a vision, and speak unto him in a dream" (Num. 12:6).

I put all of the commentators who thought that the איש was an angel on the right hand side of the page. I put Radak's examples in the same color (blue). I also add another example to back up Radak's opinion.

I added the text from the Haggadah as well.

I put Rambam's opinion on the left hand side of the page. He thought that the איש came to Yaakov in a prophetic vision as opposed to it being a real being.

Most of the commentators thought that it was a real angel who actually wrestled with Yaakov. I think that G-d sent the angel so that Yaakov would gain confidence and know that everything would be alright.

On the other hand, as a rationalist, I really like Rambam's idea that it wasn't a real person, but rather, a prophetic vision. I think that the message is the same.

I find myself going back and forth between the two explanations.