Why is this, that you ask my name?

Rembrandt: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
Rembrandt: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

In Vayishlakh, this week’s parashah, Yaaqov Avinu battles an angel. At the end he asks the angel what his name was. The angel answers, “לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי — why is this that you ask my name?” A mal’akh is literally a messenger. An angel is defined by its mission. Thus the name of the angel of healing is simply “Refa’el — G-d Heals”, as one example. But the story in our parashah goes to its conclusion apparently without Yaaqov getting an answer to his question.

I would like to suggest that the angel did answer Yaaqov.

Rav Chiya bar Chanina (Bereishis Rabba #72) identifies this angel as שרו של עשו, the national angel of Eisav’s descendants. Among those descendants is Amaleiq and his offspring. Which, in turn, is a nation Rashi (Devarim 25:18) and others attribute an ideology of מקרה, it’s all happenstance. No Divine Plan or purpose to creation.

Putting those two together… When Yaaqov asks for a name, the angel replies with its name. The name is “לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי — why is this that you ask my name?” The angel that is the metaphysical manifestation of Esav’s nations is the one with the function of “why ask for names?” Why are you looking for a plan or function?

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  1. RAM says:

    Without some mission, why would this angel exist? If the angel did have a mission, would he be unable to describe it?

    • micha says:

      As an angel, he is defined by his mission. Two missions – two angels. Zero missions, zero angels. That’s the whole reason why an angel’s name and their Mission Statement are the same thing.

      I was trying to say that the angel accurately described the mission of trying to get people to ignore the whole subject of pursuing missions. His mission is “what is this, *you* asking me about my name / mission?”

      • RAM says:

        Is this angel’s mission really any different from the known missions of the Satan and the Yetzer HaRa? What about Amalek’s obsession with wiping us out physically?

        • micha says:

          No, it’s really not that different. But that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Chazal conflate “saro shel Eisav” with Samael and the satan often enough. Eg the Tanchuma on our pasuq reads:

          ויאבק איש עמו, ×–×” סמאל שרו של עשו שבקש להרגו, שנאמר וירא ×›×™ לא יכול לו…

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