A ‘BISSEL’ OF TORAH Parashat Vayishlach  (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)

by Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant

In last week’s Torah Parsha (Vayeitzei), we read about how Jacob, himself was deceived into marrying Leah, instead of her younger sister, Rachel, with whom he was deeply in love. We learned that between Leah, Rachel, and their maidservants, Jacob sired twelve sons, who became the ancestors of the twelve tribes if Israel. Little, if anything, is mentioned in the midrash, that Leah’s first child was a girl, named Dinah.

This week’s Torah Parsha (Vayishlach) takes place twenty years after Jacob left his home, in fear of a revenge killing by his older twin brother, Esau, who by deceit and trickery, received the birthright and last blessing, from their father Isaac. By tradition, Esau, the elder of the two had claim for these rights. (Re: Tol’Dot).

Vayishlach (this week’s Torah Parsha),takes place twenty years after Jacob left home, in fear of Esau’s last words to him, that he would avenge Jacob, by killing him. Vayislach is replete with both contradictions and speculation, from both the Midrash and more modern Rabbincal Scholars (1). There is even the question whether the original writers of the bible, deliberately omitted or modified this Parsha, to portray Jacob as a young man who had many struggles, to mature, humble, remorseful, with a renewed faith and absolute devotion to the Almighty.

We know that after two decades, haunted with intense fear and trepidation, Jacob planned to return home to Canaan, fearing an encounter with his brother Esau. Prior to his confrontation, we should pause to consider whether Jacob is truly a role model, or a cunning, weak man, obviously partial to certain members of his family (specifically Rachel and his son Joseph), and a misogynist(2).

When Jacob nears his home, Esau is surrounded by armed men, and the image to Jacob was probably terrifying. However, as Esau approaches, he embraces his brother, welcoming him home. Jacob decides to settle himself and his family in the nearby city of Schechem. As the story continues (Genesis 34), we learn of the brutal rape of Dinah, Jacob’s first-born, by the son of the Prince of the city. “It is a tale of brutality, false negotiation, slaughter, and a terrible political calculation”(3). Rumors abound around the city that Dinah is a ‘harlot’. Very else is known or discussed pertaining to Dinah, in this Parsha. Jacob makes an alliance with the Hivite Prince of Schechem. The Hivites can have access to all females in Jacob’s family, hinged on the circumcision of all males. Two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi tell all of the Hivite males that they must self –circumcise. As the men are in severe pain, and blood is flowing everywhere, Simeon and Levi kill all the men. Shakenly, Jacob, expressing no concern for his daughter, states “You have made trouble for me, by making me odious to the land’s inhabitants”(4).

At times in the Torah narrative, individuals sometime appear more evil than righteous. It is our responsibility to always remember that the Torah was written by men close to 4,000 years ago. It is our responsibility to learn from their character flaws, so that we do not deceive others; and, most importantly, treat all people regardless of gender or sexual identity as equals.

(1) The Torah: A Modern Commentary
(2) The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
(3) ReformJudaism.org (Rabbi Lewis Barth)
(4) Genesis (34:26)