Torah Weekly

For the week ending 20 November 2010 / 12 Kislev 5771

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.


M.T.V. = A.D.D.

“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (32:25)

We live in an era of distraction. Television advertising and music video driven by big BPM (bucks-per-minute) have accelerated the cutting rates of film and video to the microsecond.

The ubiquitous cell phone interrupts us our thoughts, our conversations, our lives. We don’t think anymore; we just surf through our thoughts.

Now this. Now this. Now this.

How long can you hold an idea in your head? Try it. Whoops! Try again! How long you can concentrate on an idea without any other thought intruding? Ten seconds? Twenty?

Two minutes of uninterrupted focus on one thought is pretty Olympic in my experience.

In this week’s Torah portion, an incorporeal spiritual force (transl. ‘angel’) attacks Yaakov and wrestles with him until the dawn. This ‘angel’ was the protecting force of the nation of Esav. Why didn’t the angel of Esav attack Avraham or Yitzchak? Why did he wait for Yaakov?

This world stands on three pillars: kindness, prayer and Torah. The three Patriarchs represent these three pillars. Avraham is the pillar of kindness, Yitzchak is the pillar of prayer and Yaakov is the pillar of Torah. The Torah is the unique possession of the Jewish people. No other nation in the world has the Torah. Thus the attack on Torah is the one that hits at the heart of Judaism.

The angel of Esav attacked Yaakov because he knew that the most effective way to destroy the Jewish People is to deter them from learning Torah.

Even though the angel of Esav was unsuccessful in his fight with Yaakov, he managed to damage him in the thigh. The thigh is place in the body that represents progeny and the continuation of the generations – Jewish continuity.

In the era before the coming of Mashiach, Esav will try to make it very difficult to educate our children with Torah. Torah demands commitment, application and concentration. The essence of Talmudic thought is to be able to contain several ideas in one’s head and to synthesize and counterpoint these ideas. You can’t learn Torah if you are distracted. We live in an era where distraction has become an industry.

In the generation before the Mashiach in which we find ourselves, maintaining a minimal attention span will be a gigantic battle in itself.

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