Torah Weekly

For the week ending 17 December 2016 / 17 Kislev 5777

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.


His Heart's Desire

“And Yaakov became frightened, and it distressed him.” (13:17)

Rashi explains that, sensing his forthcoming encounter with Esav, Yaakov “became frightened” lest he be killed, and “it distressed him” lest he kill Esav.

The halacha states that if someone comes to kill you, it is a mitzvah to pre-empt him and kill him first. Given that Yaakov knew this mitzvah, why should he be distressed? Yaakov Avinu certainly knew the difference between sensitivity and sentimentality.

The only reason that Yaakov bought the portion of the firstborn from Esav was so he could perform the Divine Service of the Beit Hamikdash. TheShulchan Aruch, the universal Code of Jewish Law, says (Orach Chaim 128:35) that a kohen who kills someone, even inadvertently, may no longer "duchan" (he may no longer raise his hands in the priestly blessing), for "his hands are full of blood." If bloody hands proscribe the giving of the priestly blessing, all the more so would be forbidden the higher level of the Temple Service at the Altar.

Thus, were Yaakov to kill Esav he would forfeit the Temple Service, and the buying of the firstborn’s portion would have been for naught (not to mention the concomitant hatred of Esav).

For this reason Yaakov was distressed at the possibility that he might have to kill Esav and lose his heart's most precious desire.

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