Torah Weekly - Parshat Vayishlach

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Parshat Vayishlach

For the week ending 19 Kislev 5761 / 15 & 16 December 2000

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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 and sending a tribute to mollify Esav. That night, Yaakov is left alone and wrestles with the angel of Esav. Although Yaakov emerges victorious, he is left with an injured sinew in his thigh (thus 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 realm (the angel). The brothers, Yaakov and Esav, meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Esav's offer to dwell together. Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dinah, Yaakov's daughter. In return for Dinah'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 mila. While weakened by the circumcision, Shimon and Levi, two of Dinah's brothers, enter the town and execute all the males. This action is justified by the city's tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister. Hashem commands Yaakov to go to Beit-El and build an altar there. His mother Rivka's nurse, Devorah, dies and is buried below Beit-El. Hashem appears again t_o 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 Yisrael. She dies in childbirth and is buried on the Beit Lechem Road. Yaakov builds a monument to her, which is still there today. Yitzchak passes away at the age of 180, and is buried by his sons. The Parsha concludes by listing Esav's descendants.




    "Therefore the Children of Israel shall not eat the thigh sinew (32:33)."

    The spirit of Esau will not conquer Yaakov during their struggles throughout the long ages of darkness, but will hamstring him, prevent him from standing firmly on two feet. Yaakov will be unable to stroll through history. This lack of stability is necessary in order to open our eyes. If Yaakov had stood like Esau athe head of his four hundred warriors and had not been conquered, the role of Hashem would not have been visible. The prohibition of this sinew teaches a lesson, and since the lesson is food-related, it will be constantly impressed on us. This commandment reminds us that we are not dependent on submission to Esau for our survival. Strength for Yaakov (Israel) lies in higher factors which cannot be weakened by Esau's military might.

    If Yaakov does fall, he falls not because he is not equal to Esau in material power, but because he has not understood how to retain the protection of his G-d. If Israel stands, we stand not because of our strong material power, but because our G-d bears us aloft on the "eagle wings" of His Almightiness. This is the message meant for the nation when it finds itself beaten, "Don't seek the cause of your calamity in a small military budget, nor in your failure to acquire the latest weapons, technology nor even in poor negotiation techniques. Instead return to G-d to ensure your future!"


    "And Yaakov was very frightened and distressed" (32:7).

    Rashi comments that Yaakov was frightened lest he or members of his family be killed, and he was distressed, that he might be forced to kill others. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein asks: Why was Yaakov distressed that he might be put in a position of having to kill Esav or one of his four hundred wicked companions? Wasn't this an opportunity to rid the world of evil --a reason to rejoice, and not to be distressed?

    Rabbi Feinstein answers with the words of Beruriah to her husband Rabbi Meir (Berachot 10a): "Better to pray that evildoers repent, than to pray that the wicked die." There is an inherent danger in using undesirable methods to achieve desirable goals -- that one can become tainted by the means. Rabbi Chaim Brisker pointed out that there are two kinds of zealots in the world, who are comparable to a housewife and a cat. Both the housewife and the cat want to rid the house of mice. The only difference is that the housewife hopes that there will never be another mouse to eliminate, and the cat hopes there will be many more. Before we are zealous to attack the evils of the world, let us make sure that we are acting as housewives and not cats.


    Ovadiah 1:1 - 21


    Ovadiah, the shortest book in Tanach, is this week's haftara. Ovadiah was an Edomite convert to Judaism. Esav lived among two tzaddikim, Yitzchak and Rivka, and failed to learn from them -- Ovadiah lived among two of the wickedest people, Achav and Jezabel, yet he remained a tzaddik. His prophecy follows Esav/Edom through various periods of history until its eventual downfall in the times of the mashiach.


    "If he will rise up like an eagle and if he will make his nest among the stars --
    even from there I will bring him down" (1:4).

    Yaakov saw prophetically that the final exile, our current one, would go on and on. He feared it would never end. Hashem assured him: "If he (Edom/Rome) will rise up like an eagle and if he will make his nest among the stars -- even from there I will bring him down."

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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