Wednesday, December 10, 2008



This week's portion is Vayyishlach.

As our portion begins, Yaakov is returning to Israel, with his family. Rather than wait for Esav to come to him, Yaakov sends messengers looking for Esav. Yaakov learns that Esav has amassed a threatening army, and so he prepares for war as well as for peace - he divides his crew into military camps, but he also sends a gift to Esav. He prays to Gd for help.

Yaakov moves his family, hangers-on and property across the Yabok river, but he lags behind himself, collecting small vessels. Yaakov encounters an unidentified being who grapples with him. Most traditional commentators say this was an angel representing Esav, in human form. The angel cannot defeat Yaakov, but he manages to weaken Yaakov's thigh – to remember this, we don’t eat the sciatic vascular bundle of an animal. The thigh wound symbolizes the fact that Esav will be able to hurt Yaakov’s descendants, but will not be able to destroy them. The angel concludes by giving Yaakov a blessing, and he names Yaakov "Yisrael."

Yaakov and Esav meet, and Esav kisses Yaakov. There is some debate as to the sincerity of the greeting; it seems clear that Yaakov did not trust the greeting, as he refused Esav's offer to join forces. Yaakov went from there to Shechem (Nablus), where he bought land.

Dinah, daughter of Yaakov and Leah, went out to tour the area. She met the local prince, Chamor, who took her and raped her. (For those who have read "The Red Tent," please note that it is a fictional work which matches neither the biblical text nor the rabbinic tradition.) Chamor wanted the family to sell Dinah to him. Outraged, the brothers conspired to make the people of the town vulnerable and then punish them for kidnapping Dinah. Yaakov was upset at their actions, and apparently he did not forgive them, as he rebuked them for their actions before he died (Genesis 49:5-7).

Gd appeared to Yaakov and officially changed his name to Yisrael.

Rachel gave birth to Binyamin, the last of the 12 tribes. She died in childbirth.

After Rachel died, Bilhah, Rachel's maid, became Yaakov's favored wife. Yaakov moved his bed into her tent. Reuven, Leah's oldest son, was upset that his mother had been so publicly spurned. As the sages understand the Torah's cryptic verses here, Reuven moved his father's bed into Leah's tent.

The Torah portion ends with a genealogy of Esav. Regarding Yishmael the Torah gave a genealogy when he left center stage, and the Torah does the same for Esav here. Esav's grandson returns later in the Torah, though, as the founder of the nation of Amalek.

Have a great day,


Ari Blinder said...

Where did you get the phrase "She [Dinah] fell for the local prince"? Is it a midrash? I don't see it in the pesukim nor Rashi. Although the pasuk says that she went to look over the daughters of the land it seems clear to me that Shechem was the one who fell for her.

Be Well,


The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Hi Ari,

Thanks for your comment; yes, it's from midrash.

While I understand that one wouldn't see this clearly in the pesukim, Bereishis Rabbah takes it from a few hints, principally the Torah's indication (in 34:26) that Shimon and Levi physically carried her out, even after her presumed captors were dead.

Nonetheless, I see that my phrasing here is misleading; I'll edit it.