Torah Weekly

For the week ending 5 December 2009 / 17 Kislev 5770

Parshat Vayishlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Returning home, Yaakov sends angelic messengers to appease his brother Eisav. The messengers return, telling Yaakov that Eisav is approaching with an army of 400. Yaakov takes the strategic precautions of dividing the camps, praying for assistance, and sending tribute to mollify Eisav. That night, Yaakov is left alone and wrestles with the Angel of Eisav. 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 Eisav meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Eisavs offer that they should dwell together. Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dina, Yaakovs daughter. In return for Dinas hand in marriage, the prince and his father suggest that Yaakov and his family intermarry and enjoy the fruits of Caananite prosperity. Yaakovs sons trick Shechem and his father by feigning agreement; however, they stipulate that all the males of the city must undergo brit mila. Shimon and Levi, two of Dinas brothers, enter the town and execute all the males who were weakened by the circumcision. This action is justified by the citys tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister. G-d commands Yaakov to go to Beit-El and build an altar. His mother Rivkas 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 Parsha concludes by listing Eisavs descendants.


A Learning Experience

“I dwelled with Lavan.” (32:5)

Why is it that the secular world seems to have so much gleaming success while the religious world seems to shlep along like an old beggar in a worn-out coat?

Rashi points out that the numerical equivalent of the word ‘dwelled’ is 613, the same number as the Torah’s mitzvot, and Yaakov was hinting to his brother Eisav, that despite his close contact with Lavan for the previous 20 years, he had not learned from Lavan’s wicked ways.

Usually this Rashi is understood to be a praise of Yaakov, that he never became corrupted be Lavan’s evil. But maybe it can be understood differently.

Yaakov was also saying to Eisav, “You don’t have to worry about me; I’m not such a tzaddik. True, I kept the 613 mitzvot, but in spite of the fact that I lived with Lavan for 22 years, I failed to take a lesson from the enthusiasm with which he pursued everything bad. Had I learned that from him – oy va voy for you my brother Eisav!”

Maybe if we did the mitzvot with as much zeal and enthusiasm as the secular world pursues the pleasures of this world, then we’d be as successful as them.

  • Sources: Rabbi Meir Shapiro and the Chidushei HaRim in Mayana shel Torah

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