Wednesday, December 14, 2005

PARSHAH IN A NUTSHELL: Week of December 11-17, 2005 (Vayishlach)


Kislev 13, 5766 * December 14, 2005


TORAH PORTION: Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

Torah Reading for Week of December 11-17, 2005

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Jacob returns to the Holy Land after a 20-year stay in Charan, and sends angel-emissaries to Esau in hope of a reconciliation; but his messengers report that his brother is on the warpath with 400 armed men. Jacob prepares for war, prays, and sends Esau a large gift (consisting of hundreds of heads of sheep and cattle) to appease him.

That night, Jacob ferries his family and possessions across the Yabbok River; he, however, remains behind and encounters the angel that embodies the spirit of Esau, with whom he wrestles until daybreak. Jacob suffers a dislocated hip but vanquishes the supernal creature, who bestows on him the name Israel, which means "He who prevails over the Divine."

Jacob and Esau meet, embrace and kiss, but part ways. Jacob purchases a plot of land near Shechem, whose crown prince -- also called Shechem -- abducts and rapes Jacob's daughter Dinah. Dinah's brothers Simon and Levi avenge the deed by killing all male inhabitants of the city after rendering them defenseless by convincing them to circumcise themselves.

Jacob journeys on. Rachel dies while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, and is buried in a roadside grave near Bethlehem. Reuben loses the birthright because he interferes with his father's marital life. Jacob arrives in Hebron, to his father Isaac, who later dies at age 180 (Rebecca has passed away before Jacob's arrival).

Our Parshah concludes with a detailed account of Esau's wives, children and grandchildren, and the family histories of the people of Se'ir among whom Esau settled.

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- And Jacob was greatly afraid, and he was distressed (Genesis 32:8)

He was afraid that he might be killed, and distressed that he might kill. (Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)

- I am unworthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which You have shown Your servant (Genesis 32:11)

The meaning of this is that every kindness bestowed by G-d upon a person should cause him to be exceedingly humble. For a Divine kindness is an expression of "His right hand does embrace me" -- G-d is literally bringing the person closer to Himself. And the closer a person is to G-d, the greater the humility this should evoke in him; for since "all before Him is as naught," the more "before Him" a person is, the more "as naught" does he perceive himself to be.

This is the manner of Jacob. The very opposite is the case in the contrasting realm of kelipah (evil). There, the greater the kindness shown a person, the more he grows in arrogance and self-satisfaction. (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

- And [Jacob] bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother… (Genesis 33:3)

When Mordechai refused to bow to Haman, they said to him: "You're going to get us all killed! How dare you go against the decree of the king?"

Said Mordechai: "I am a Jew."

Said they to him: "Did not [our] forefathers bow to his forefather?"

Replied Mordechai: "I am descendant of Benjamin, who was in his mother's womb at that time. Just as my forefather did not bow, so, too, I shall not kneel nor bow." (Midrash)


For more Parshah reading, please visit our "Full Parshah with Commentary" section with its dozens of excerpts from the Midrash, Talmud, Commentaries and the Chassidic Masters:

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Copyright (c), 2005

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