Vayishlach: Balancing Solitude and Relationship

Copyright 2013 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayishlach

That same night he arose and. . . he crossed the ford of the Yavok.  Yaakov was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.  .  . (Bereshit/ Genesis 32: 23-24)

Good afternoon!

My colleague Rabbi Baruch Halevi had an excellent Torah insight that I’d never really considered: as in the verse above, our ancestor Yaakov seems to have his most intense spiritual experiences at night. (See also Bereshit 28 and 46.) You should check out Rabbi Halevi’s interpretation (here) about facing the inner darkness but what intrigued me was how the Torah stresses that Yaakov was alone that night by the river. This is also explicit the first time he had visions of the night on his flight from Beer-sheva.  (see the link to chapter 28, above.)  Sometimes we gain great insight in solitude, in quiet hours and withdrawal from noise and business; the image of Yaakov alone at night certainly suggests a moment of crisis but also simply those times when looking inward is the only possible way forward.

On the other hand, contrast those two experiences of  Yaakov with the famous scene of his father praying together with his mother:

And Yitzhak prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Holy One accepted his prayer, and Rivka his wife conceived. (Bereshit 25:21)

Rashi says that Yitzhak and Rivka prayed in opposite corners of the same room; other commentators suggest that Yitzhak knew that their problem was not only hers but was fully shared by both spouses, thus requiring shared prayer and introspection. There are times for the quiet of solitude, and also times to reveal our struggle and journey with others.

We might say that in the aloneness of the night, Yaakov is confronted with the most basic questions a human can ask: who am I and where am I going? Yitzhak, at his moment of seeking, asks an equally fundamental question: how are we going to move forward together? Perhaps the difference is this: the question is  not only who am I? but how can I be me except in relationship to others?

This is, of course, no conundrum at all. The full spiritual life is a balance of solitude and connection, introspection and dialogue, learning one’s inner truth and also a deep vulnerability to others. Sometimes we need to be Yaakov, alone in the night, and sometimes we need to be Yitzhak, seeking God together with his partner.  Both ways are holy!

Shabbat Shalom,



  1. Rabbi Rafi Cohen said

    yasher koach!

  2. rabbineal said

    Why, thank you.

  3. Dan Packman said

    Implicit in your interpretation is that Yaakov was alone while “a man wrestled with him”. Sometimes we do have to be alone to fully face ourselves.

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