Torah Weekly

For the week ending 28 November 2015 / 16 Kislev 5776

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 Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Man

“I dwelled with Lavan…” (32-5)

Can you imagine the Prime Minister of the State of Israel standing up in the Congress of the United States and warning the Americans not to mess with the State of Israel because we keep the whole Torah?

Of course it would be a wonderful thing if such a statement were true. But even if it were true, so fine, say the Americans, “You’re a good Jew and you keep your Torah, but what do we care about that? We don’t believe in your Torah; we have a New Testament.”

Or if he addressed the Parliament in Iran with the same claim, “Don’t fool around with us, Persians, because we keep the whole Torah.” I’m not sure that the mullahs would be terribly impressed with that assertion.

So why does Rashi tell us that Yaakov was threatening Esav at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion. Rashi comments that by using the word – garti – “I dwelled”, whose gematria is 613, Yaakov was warning Esav not to cross him, because he had been careful to observe all 613 mitzvot even while in the house of Lavan.

Why would Esav care that Yaakov had kept all of the mitzvot? Esav was not exactly the biggest believer in the mitzvot.

And if Yaakov was warning Esav, why didn’t Yaakov say it explicitly instead of couching his threat in numerology? How could Yaakov expect Esav to pick up on such an obscure hint?

The purpose of a mitzvah is to connect man with G-d. Not just through the essential connection that comes through carrying out G-d’s Will, but the remembrance of why I am doing this mitzvah — because G-d commanded me to do it — reminds me that I am doing the Will of G-d, and that in itself connects me to G-d.

“I dwelled with Lavan…”

When Yaakov spoke to Esav, he was really reminding himself that sending Esav a monetary tribute, dividing his camp, and preparing for war, were no more than physical actions designed to remind himself that G-d is the Cause of all causes and the Reason of all reasons

And to remind oneself, a hint is all you need.

  • Source: based on Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman as seen in Talelei Orot

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