Yesterday’s Torah Parasha VAYESHEV as well as the Parasha before, VAYISHLACH, mentioned him: A strange man seemingly appearing out of the blue.
Parashat Vayishlach (Bereshit / Genesis 32:23-32:33) teaches about a MAN (Hebrew: ISH) who was attacking Yaakov. The situation is really odd. Suddenly a man comes up and starts fighting with Yaakov. The Torah calls him MAN (ISH). He fights, blesses Yaakov and then announces that, from now on, Yaakov should be called ISRAEL.
However, the Torah continues to refer to Yaakov by this former name and only calls him Israel as soon as he is using his prophecy ability.
In Parashat VAYESHEV (Bereschit / Genesis 37:17), the MAN (ISH) is appearing again. Yosef is looking for his brothers and suddenly there is this man popping up. Yosef is asking whether the man has seen his brothers and the response is that they are at a place called Dotan. The brothers, on the other hand, see Yosef coming towards them and immediately start to prepare a trap. They want to throw him into a pit and then sell him.
The question is: With whom was Yaakov actually fighting? Rashi states that he was fighting with his own Yetzer HaRah (evil inclination) and by overcoming it, he received a new name hinting to his higher spiritual level.
Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveitchik states that the MAN (ISH) was the same one who sent Yosef to Dotan.
And what did this man tell Yaakov?
That his brother Esav will leave him unharmed but the Jewish history as a whole will be full of struggles and conflicts. The whole world misunderstands the Jews and their goal and won’t show any sympathy. The ISH personifies the tragic-paradoxical moments in Jewish history.
Without the MAN (Ish) telling him, Yosef may have never found his brothers and had returned home. G-d’s plan was getting the Jews down to Egypt where they enter their first Diaspora. Thus the man had to be there in order to fulfill G-d’s plan. The task of Yosef was to get to Egypt and set up an abode for his family.
Rabbi Soloveitchik writes that there are times when G-d acts all by Himself. And then there are times when He sends an Ish (mediator) to act. Sometimes G-d uses man as a tool in order to make him realize His will.