Weekly Reading Insights:
Vayishlach 5779



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Vayishlach, 16 Kislev 5779/Nov. 24

Torah: Genesis 32:4-36:43; Haftorah: Book of Obadia (who was an Edomite convert!)

Vayishlach is the 8th Reading out of 12 in Genesis and it contains 7458 letters, in 1976 words, in 153 verses

Yaacov sent messengers to Eisav, informing him of his return. Eisav came to meet Yaacov, along with 400 men. Yaacov divided his people into two camps, so that should Eisav attack, at least one camp would survive. Yaacov sent gifts for Eisav. He then sent his wives, children and possessions across the Jabbok River. During the night Yaacov wrestled with an angel, who could not defeat him, so he touched Yaacov on the thigh, dislocating his hip. At dawn, the angel blessed Yaacov, and changed his name to Yisrael. Yaacov met with Eisav in reconciliation. Eisav went to Seir. Yaacov separated from him and went to Shechem, where he purchased Kever Yosef. Yaacov's daughter, Dina, was forcefully taken by Shechem, who wanted to marry her. Yaacov, and Dina's brothers said they would permit the union only if Shechem, along with every other male, would circumcise himself. On the third day after their circumcision, when they were all suffering, Shimon and Levi killed all the men and returned with Dina. They left for Beth El, where Yaacov set up an altar to G-d. Rachel died in childbirth on the road. Yitzchak died at the age of 180. The parsha ends with the chronicles the family of Eisav, and the kings of Edom

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, provides us with a unique approach to confrontation. "And Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau." (Genesis 29:12). Rashi comments that these "messengers" were not human beings, but really heavenly angels. The Maggid of Mezeritch says that Jacob sent the physical aspect of the angels to Esau but kept their spiritual potency with him. Influencing and transforming Esau is spiritual work, so why did Jacob only send the physical? What point is the Maggid trying to make and how does it relate to us?

Only when the spiritual part of the angel stayed with Jacob, knowing that this was its true place, could the physical part be effective in transforming Esau. This teaches us that when we go out to challenge the world and make it a more spiritual place, our spiritual entity, our soul, must stay connected to Him who has sent us out, the Holy One Blessed Be He.

Jacob prayed to G-d-"Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau." (Genesis 29:12).
The Zohar teaches us that appropriate prayer involves choosing our words very carefully so that every word counts. But Jacob had only one brother, therefore there are extra words here. Rabbi Moshe Alshich of Tsfat writes that the words "from the hands of my brother" are an honest admission of Jacob's guilt. He did commit a sin in regard to Esau, concerning Isaac's blessings. Nevertheless, Jacob is saying, "Please help me!" The Ohr Hachaim takes a different approach--that Jacob was pointing out Esau's fault: "Esau wants to kill me! Save me from my brother's hands."

"And he (Jacob) passed before them, and he bowed seven times until he reached his brother." (Genesis 33:3).
What led to Esau's surrender? Why did Jacob bow seven times? The Zohar says that the first "and he" was the Shechinah, and Esau became afraid, as did Laban in last week's Torah portion. The Baal Haturim quotes the verse, "Seven times the tzaddik will fall and then rise." (Proverbs 24:16). He teaches that this was in order to remove the seven levels of impurity from Jacob's own heart, to make himself purer and more righteous in G d's eyes.

Rebbe Michel of Zlotchov gives us a further explanation, citing a story about Rav Acha Ben Yaakov (Kiddushin 29b).
He was once in a study hall, where an evil being that looked like a snake with seven heads appeared. Rav Acha bowed seven times, and each time one of the heads of the snake fell off. The seven bows negated the seven impure strengths of the snake. With Jacob our forefather, each obeisance was to draw down extra energy and strengthen one of his seven pure strengths. So why was Esau not vanquished completely? The answer is that because he was Jacob's twin brother Esau's birth was also holy, and only his negative behavior had drawn him towards evil and entrapped him. Jacob's seven bows weakened Esau's seven negative strengths, leaving Esau as he had been when he was born, Jacob's holy brother. Jacob bowed seven times until he reached his brother, disregarding all Esau's impurity. This is what the verse says, "And he ran to him and hugged him." (Genesis 33:3). Nevertheless, this elevation lasted only for a short time, as the verse continues, "That very day, Esau went on his way, to Seir." (Ibid.)

There are a few interesting teachings in this. Our battle with our opponents does not always have to be a direct confrontation. Sometimes by strengthening our good qualities and increasing our positive actions, we weaken the negative forces around us. Even more important is our reinterpretation of Jacob's attitude. His bowing was not a surrender by any means, but rather a distinct and successful part of his battle plan. Certainly part of his success was based on the wisdom of the famous Yiddish saying, translated: "Think good and it will be good".
The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that this applies to all life's challenges, but especially to illness. Be confident that the results will be good, not only in thought, but in speech and action too, and they will be good.

Shabbat shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Vayishlach

one sample:

Mystical Classics
Messengers of the Righteous

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

According to some scholars, Jacob sent flesh and blood messengers up ahead to his brother Esau; others claim that they were angels.

Actually, there were two sets of emissaries, since the struggle between Jacob and his adversary occurred on two levels: the physical and the spiritual; Esau in this world and Sam-kel in the celestial regions.

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