Jacob is left alone, on his journey home, on the night before his momentous meeting with his brother whom he has always cheated and deceived. He wrestles with a man, an Ish, all that night. Neither wrestler can overcome the other, and when the dawn breaks, Jacob receives his new name Yisrael, which will become our name, the name of the Children of Israel forever.
Who was this mysterious wrestler who encountered Jacob in the night? Was it an angel sent by God with the blessing of a new name; was it Esau his brother, come to test him in the night; or perhaps it was all a dream and this is Jacob wrestling with himself, the deceiver he has been and the better soul he knows he can become? All the Torah tells us is that Jacob wrestled with an Ish.
But something about this story sounds familiar. There is another man, another Ish, who Jacob’s son Joseph encounters on a journey of his own. Joseph meets a “man in the field” an Ish Basadeh, who directs him towards his brothers and begins the incredible journey which will lead Joseph to be sold into slavery and cast into prison, only then to rise and become second only to Pharaoh, saving all of Egypt from famine, and bringing his family down to Egypt as well.
Could Jacob’s Ish and Joseph’s Ish Basadeh be one and the same? The mystical mathematics of gematria gives us a clue. Based on the numerical value of the letters of each of the words we can learn: איש (Ish) equals 311 and בשדה (Basadeh) equals 311 as well. A convenient coincidence don’t you see, particularly when you add the Hebrew word for “equals”, שוה (Shaveh) the numerical value of which equals 311 as well.
Jacob encounters a person on his journey to find his destiny. Joseph encounters a person on his journey to find his own. Each of us has encountered such a person who directed us on our own life’s journey. Each of us can be that person for those we meet and those whose lives we touch. Perhaps it was an angel who Jacob wrestled with that night. Perhaps we too are angels, messengers of the Holy One, as well.