Yaakov's Wrestling Match in Music


Yaakov's encounter with the "אִישׁ", described in Bereshit 32,  is one of the more enigmatic episodes in Torah.  Everything from the identity of the assailant to his purpose in attacking is unknown.  The scene is depicted often in the visual arts, but only rarely in music.  One exception is Shlomo Carlebach's song, "וְנִשְׂגַּב ה' לְבַדּוֹ", available here.  His rendition, both in his choice of lyrics and the accompanying tune, makes one question the message behind the original episode.

An Eschatological Story?

Carlebach's song combines two distinct verses which at first glance seem totally unconnected. The first line of the song comes from Yeshayahu 2:11,17 which speaks of the end of days when idolatry will be destroyed, the might will fall, and Hashem alone will emerge victorious.  The second describes Yaakov's remaining alone and his struggle with the "אִישׁ".  Is there any relationship between the two?   Is it possible to read into Yaakov's struggle an eschatological message, relevant not just for Yaakov personally but for future generations as well?  Who was the "אִישׁ"?  Was Yaakov's victory over him a victory for man or for God?  For elaboration, see Wrestling With Angels and Men.

A Cheerful Struggle?

Carlebach's tune is very upbeat, and at first glance quite incongruous with a mysterious nocturnal attack.  The verses present Yaakov alone, fighting an unknown assailant, and even emerging lame from the struggle, making one wonder why Carlebach chose this tune rather than something more ominous.  Is there anything in the story which is uplifting or cheerful?  This depends on how one understands the message of the encounter.  In fact, commentators have read into it everything from a threatening attack or punishment to encouragement and reassurance.  See Wrestling with Angels and Men for more.