The Torah in Parashat Vayishlach tells of Yaakov’s wrestle with a mysterious assailant who confronted him as he brought his family and belongings across the Yabok stream on his way back to Canaan. Yaakov suffered a serious thigh injury during the fight, but ultimately prevailed. The attacker – commonly identified as an angel – asked Yaakov to release him, but Yaakov refused to let the angel free until he blessed him. The angel responded by pronouncing that Yaakov’s name would now be “Yisrael” (32:28).
Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro of Piacezna, in Eish Kodesh, offers an explanation for why Yaakov insisted on receiving a blessing from the angel before releasing him. Yaakov wanted to set a vitally important precedent for his offspring – that periods of hardship will ultimately prove beneficial, that they will not merely survive and recover from adversity, but come out of difficult situations “blessed.” It was not enough for Yaakov to simply defeat his assailant and proceed. He wanted to establish that the struggles should be sources of “blessing,” showing his descendants that they would not only survive periods of hardship, but would grow from them.
A generally similar message is perhaps by conveyed through Chazal’s emphasizing to us that Yaakov fully recovered from the injury he sustained during his wrestle with the angel. After this story, the Torah tells that “the sun shone for him” (32:32), and the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 78:4), cited by Rashi, interprets this to mean that the sunrise cured Yaakov’s injured thigh. Likewise, the Torah later (33:18) tells that Yaakov arrived “shaleim” (“complete”) at the city of Shekhem, and Rashi cites the Midrash’s explanation that Yaakov was “complete” in several different ways, including physically, as he fully recovered from his injury. It would seem that Chazal seek to emphasize that Yaakov did not endure long-term suffering as a result of his struggle, that he came away from this unfortunate experience not hobbling, but rather strong and energized.
Interestingly, the Gemara in Masekhet Avoda Zara (11b) tells that the people in Rome would celebrate a holiday once every seventy years, during which a lame individual would be paraded through the streets with a healthy individual on his back. This spectacle symbolized the superiority of Eisav – represented by the healthy man – over Yaakov – represented by the incapacitated man. This depiction perhaps points to the mistaken perception of our nation’s adversaries that the “injuries” we suffer are permanent, that we can never recover from hardship. Chazal emphasized to us that to the contrary, Yaakov was fully healed – indicating that we are capable of complete recovery, that no matter what we’ve endured, we should look to the future with hope and optimism, and trust in our ability to move on with vigor, without “limping,” and emerge from adversity better and stronger than we were before.