A ‘Bissel’ of Torah: VAYISHLACH (GENESIS 32:4-36:9)

By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant


In last week’s parsha, Vayetzei, we read the convoluted and multifarious twenty years which Jacob experienced while living with his Uncle Laban. In parsha Vayishlach, with immense trepidation, Jacob follows God’s orders to return to his birthplace in Canaan. He is terrified of the inevitable encounter
with his brother, Esau. Even after more than twenty years, Jacob continues to live with the guilt of his abominable acts of deceit of both his brother and his beloved father.

Jacob sent messengers with gifts to inform Esau that he had arrived. The messengers return to tell Jacob that Esau was on his way to meet him, accompanied by four hundred men. “Then Jacob became greatly afraid and distressed” (1). Rabbi Judah interpreted this sentiment to signify that Jacob was ‘afraid’ that he might be killed and ‘distressed’ that he might kill Esau (2).
As Jacob waited for Esau, he was left alone, “and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn” (3). According to our sages, the assailant was an angel of Esau (4), “and the socket of Jacob’s hip became dislocated during the fight” (5).

When Jacob arose, he saw Esau approaching alone, overcome with emotion and fraternal good will. However, Jacob declined Esau’s request that Jacob and his family join him on the way back to Seir, in Canaan. He excused himself, claiming that the burden of his wives, all of his children and his property would significantly prolong the trip. According to the ‘midrash’, Jacob did not travel with his brother on the chance that Esau might still harm him (6).
Instead, Jacob and his family travelled to the city of Shechem, in Canaan. “Dinah, the only daughter of the family, went out, hoping to make friends with the girls in the land” (7). Shechem, the son of King Hamor, saw Dinah; he took her and he violated her. Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, were grieved because it is a sin to “violate a virgin” (8).

Simeon and Levi avenged their sister; first pretending to agree to a marriage between Dinah and the Prince, if all of the men in the city were circumcised. Then, when the men were at the peak of their pain, “the brothers, with confidence, came upon every man in the city; and, killed him, with their swords” (9).

Jacob strongly disapproved of his sons’ actions for fear that the people of the land would retaliate and destroy the family and all of their property. Simeon and Levi emphatically responded: “Should our sister be treated like a harlot?” (10). With God’s blessing, the family moved to the city of Beth El in Canaan.

God said to Jacob: “Your name will no longer be Jacob; but, Israel will be your name” (11). Radak wrote: “Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, because he had striven with beings, both Divine and human; and, he had prevailed” (12).
As the family continued to travel to Beth El, Rachel gave birth to a second son named Benjamin and died from complications. “Jacob erected a monument on her grave, which is the tombstone of Rachel, until this day” (13).




(1) GENESIS (32:8)
(2) Rabbi Judah bar Ilai, 2 nd century, Ein Zeitim, Israel
(3) GENESIS (32:25)
(4) (Gen. Rabbah 75:4)
(5) GENESIS (32:26)
(6) www.partnersintorah.org
(7) GENESIS (34:1)
(8) (Gen. Rabbah 8:7)
(9) GENESIS (34:25)
(10) GENESIS (34:31)
(11) GENESIS (35:10)
(12) Rabbi David Kimchi (Radack), (1160-1250) Narbonne, France
(13) GENESIS (35:20)