Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 December 2022 / 16 Kislev 5783

Parshat Vayishlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Returning home, Yaakov sends angelic messengers to appease his brother Esav. The messengers return, telling Yaakov that Esav is approaching with an army of 400. Yaakov takes the strategic precautions of dividing the camps, praying for assistance, and sending tribute to mollify Esav.

That night, Yaakov is left alone and wrestles with the angel of Esav. Yaakov emerges victorious but is left with an injured sinew in his thigh (which is the reason that it is forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal). The angel tells him that his name in the future will be Yisrael, signifying that he has prevailed against man (Lavan) and the supernatural (the angel). Yaakov and Esav meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Esav’s offer that they should dwell together.

Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dina, Yaakov’s daughter. In return for Dina’s hand in marriage, the prince and his father suggest that Yaakov and his family intermarry and enjoy the fruits of Caananite prosperity. Yaakov’s sons trick Shechem and his father by feigning agreement. However, they stipulate that all the males of the city must undergo brit milah. Shimon and Levi, two of Dina’s brothers, enter the town and execute all the males who were weakened by the circumcision. This action is justified by the city’s tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister.

G-d commands Yaakov to go to Beit-El and build an altar. His mother Rivka’s nurse, Devorah, dies and is buried below Beit-El. G-d appears again to Yaakov, blesses him and changes his name to Yisrael. While traveling, Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to Binyamin, the twelfth of the tribes of Israel. She dies in childbirth and is buried on the Beit Lechem Road. Yaakov builds a monument to her. Yitzchak passes away at the age of 180 and is buried by his sons. The Torah portion concludes by listing Esav’s descendants.


He’s My Brother?

“We came to your brother, to Eisav.” (32:07)

You've got to hand it to the Yetzer Hara, the voice inside one’s heading that tries to convince that it’s okay to do something wrong. It’s amazing how it manages to fool us time and time again. The Yetzer Hara says, “Look over there! Look over there at that new thing! It’s really okay!”

Do you really think that you’re going to see something you haven’t seen before? And yet the Yetzer Hara keeps dishing up the same old stuff, time and time again. How do we escape its clutches?

“We came to your brother, to Eisav.” Rashi comments, “We came to the person who you regard as your brother, but he behaves toward you like a wicked Eisav: he still harbors hatred.”

The Yetzer Hara wants us to think of him as ‘our brother’ but he wants to make all that is holy, repugnant, and all that is repugnant, holy.

The most exciting thing in this world is kedusha, holiness. Have you ever prayed really well even once in your life? Do you remember what that feels like? Someone who prays well even once is a totally different person even if he never prays like that ever again. We often think that kedushah/holiness is reserved for someone who is closeted away from society and is not for the ordinary person. And certainly it is not for me

Yet, this is a mistake. Each and every one of us, on whatever level we are, can become a different person. It’s not an “all or nothing”. At any given moment, in every situation, we can become higher beings. Even as we struggle with our most difficult temptations, with our own personal Eisavs, we are never completely lost. We can always become even just a little more sanctified and move a little bit closer to Hashem.

In spirituality, there’s no such thing as a small step. It may be a small step for a man, but it's a giant leap in Heaven.

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