Parashat Vayishlach!

Dear friends;


I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah.


” Parsha in a Nutshell “


Jacob returns to the Holy Land after more than 20 years stay in Charan, and sends messengers to Esau in hope of a reconciliation, but his messengers report that his brother is on his way with 400 armed men. Jacob prepares for war, prays, but decides to go in peace and sends Esau a large gift (consisting of hundreds of sheep and cattle) to appease him.


That night, Jacob ferries his family and possessions them across the Yabbok River; he, however, remains behind and encounters the angel, with whom he wrestles until daybreak. Jacob suffers a dislocated hip but triumphs the supernatural creature, who bestows on him the name “Yisrael”, which means “He who prevails over the Divine.”


Jacob and Esau meet, embrace and kiss, but part ways. Jacob purchases a plot of land near Shechem, whose crown prince — also called Shechem — abducts and rapes Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Dinah’s brothers Simon and Levi avenge the deed by killing all male inhabitants of the city after rendering them vulnerable by convincing them to circumcise themselves.


Jacob journeys on. Rachel dies while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, and is buried in a roadside grave near Bethlehem. Reuben loses the birthright because he interferes with his father’s marital life. Jacob arrives in Chevron, to his father Isaac, who later dies at age 180.


Our parshah concludes with a detailed account of Esau’s wives, children and grandchildren, and the family histories of the people of Se’ir among whom Esau settled.


” Dvar Torah “


The character of our Forefather Jacob really fascinates me. He was the man who became Israel, our father in faith. Israel is the one whose name we bear, not Abraham nor Isaac. Jacob is not the most obvious choice of religious hero. He does not appear – at least on the surface of the biblical text – as a man with Abraham’s courage or kindness or Isaac’s faithfulness and self-restraint. He was a man surrounded by conflict: with his brother Esau, his father-in-law Laban, his wives, Leah and Rachel, and his children, whose sibling rivalry eventually brought the whole family into exile in Egypt. His life seems to have been a field of tensions. The way he purchased Esau’s birthright, took his blessing, and eventually outwitted his sneaky father-in-law Laban only shows his deceitful ways of doing transactions.


So the obvious question is: why did the Torah choose to portray the third of the Patriarchs and the most important one to our faith in this way? The Torah is highly selective in the details it chooses to relate. Why not paint Jacob in more attractive colors? Why couldn’t it use the midrashic way to describe Jacob? The midrash says that even in the womb Jacob longed for a synagogue, who spent his years as a young man studying in the bet midrash, who looked like Abraham and whose arms were like pillars of marble. His motives were always pure. He bought Esau’s birthright because he could not bear to see Esau offering sacrifices (the privilege of the firstborn) to idols. As for his father’s blessing, the very reason Isaac became blind in old age was so that this could be possible. Esau was the opposite, a violent and mercurial character who had deceived his father into thinking he was ultra-pious, but who had – on the day he came in “tired” from the field – committed a whole series of crimes including murder.


But the Torah chose not to describe him in this way. The Torah only relates to us his deceptions. His life was a series of struggles. Nothing came easily to him. So the question that still remains is “why Jacob”? What was so special about him that became “Israel”, the father of the Chosen People?!


Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives a beautiful explanation. He says that Jacob, out of all the patriarchs, was a man who chose to be chosen. Abraham was called by G-d. Isaac was chosen before his birth. G-d appeared to Moses in burning bush and told him that he is the leader.  But not Jacob. It was he who bought the birthright and took the blessing, he who chose to carry Abraham’s destiny into the future all by himself. He had to fight his way up to be part of the chosen ones! Not until he was running away from home did G-d appear to him. Not until years later, alone, at night, terrified at the prospect of meeting Esau, did G-d or an angel wrestle with him. He alone was given, by G-d or the angel, a completely new name, not an enhancement of his old one but a completely new identity: “Israel.” Jacob’s whole life was a struggle, yet it was through Jacob’s extended wrestling-match with destiny that he eventually achieved what neither Abraham nor Isaac accomplished: all his children stayed within the faith. And that is Jacob’s special characteristic: G-d did not find Jacob — Jacob found G-d!


Yes my friends, there are saintly people for whom spirituality comes easy to them. But G-d does not reach out only to saints. He reaches out to all of us. Some of us have to work harder, get more blessings and pray more in order to find G-d. Sometimes we go through hardship in life which we don’t understand. Sometimes we pray and we think G-d is not listening to us. Sometimes faith becomes a challenge and hope seems to be unreachable. But we learn from Jacob that G-d never abandons us. He still can be reached when you are on the run and under stress. All you need is to have the courage to continue and never give up hope!


So my friends, if you find yourself struggling with faith, you are in the company of Jacob-who-became-Israel, the father-in-faith of us all.


Shabbat Shalom & Regards;