Monday, December 26, 2011

make-up assignment: Parashah Vayishlach - B’resheet (Genesis) 32:4 - 36:43

Ya’akov has been 34 years removed from the land to which he is returning.  He is between a rock (the pillar of memory set up by Ya’akov and Laban) and a hard place (the approach of Esau).

As we peruse the beginning of this selection Jacob sends messengers to his brother with a message of greeting, and they return to inform Jacob that Esay has amassed 400 men to come with him.  Apparently Esau’s anger has been stewing and brewing for 34 years, and it has not been assuaged at all.  B’resheet 32:7 - 8 relates Jacob’s response; he divided the whole company into two groups with the intent that should one group be attacked the other will be able to flee.  I wonder in which direction they would flee.

Following this he prayed with humility for deliverance.  He admits his fear while also reminding the Almighty of His promise to do Jacob good (vv. 9 - 12).  He next takes from each of his five types of animal herds a portion to be presented to his brother - ostensibly as a peace offering.  These offerings are given to servants who are to separately approach Esau and his horde and present the aforementioned flocks to the elder brother.

We read that that evening he sent the two family groups of his caravan across the river Jabbok, but he himself remained on the eastern side of the river.  The scene as observed from an aerial view would show Esau a good distance to the west; strung out and separated from each other are the five gift herds of goats, sheep, camels, cows, and donkeys; two encampments (probably somewhat close to each other) are on the west side of the Jabbok River; and a solitary figure on the east side of the river.  Were we able to look further east we would see the pillar of witness (Galeed) while further eastward would be Laban and his men as the headed back home.

Skipping forward for a brief moment, the following morning Jacob brings his two camps back together.  Why?  He sends them forward toward Esau, not away from the angry one.  He sets his camp in a processional order of the handmaidens and their broods followed by Leah and her children with pregnant Rachel and Joseph bringing up the rear.  Having sent them on their way, Jacob then gallops to the front of the procession to approach Esau first.  Where is the fear from the previous night?

What does B’resheet 32: 24 - 33 have anything to do with the meeting of the long separated brothers?  Seemingly, the hearts of both brothers seem to have been changed from one day to the other.  Esau is approaching to kill his brother, we presume, while Jacob is terrified of meeting Esau.  Yet, Jacob  now rides ahead to approach Esau prior to the rest of his family - does that seem like abject fear?  Likewise Esau, “ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept” (B’resheet 33: 4).

As per Rashbam, let us consider this passage in conjunction with II Samuel 17:21 - 24.  There are several similarities to consider.
Jacob and David both arose.
They both got up in the late night, pre-dawn hours.
All who were with both of them crossed the river.
The same verb stem for “crossing” appears three times in each event (I’m taking my source’s word for this).
Geographically, the crossings were near each other.
The last mentioned location for Jacob was Machanaim (Gen. 32: 3).  Machanaim was David’s destination following the river crossing.
Both leaders are fleeing a relative.

Rashbam’s conclusion was that Jacob was fleeing Esau in the same manner that David was fleeing Absalom.  Therefore, the “wrestling angel” was sent to keep Jacob from fleeing.  Would not an injured hip, as well as a delay in time permitting Esau to get closer, aid in the accomplishment of this holy mission?

We see Jacob “wrestling” in other venues.  Let us not forget the wrestling in the womb and the struggle to emerge first.  Scheming was also involve regarding the birthright and the father’s blessing.  Laban also schemed against Jacob concerning the marriages of his daughters as well as the number of time Jacob’s wages were changed.  He also schemed in his plan to leave/escape his Uncle Laban!

Jacob refuses to let go until the angel blesses him.  Was he that strong to prevent an angel from leaving?  Couldn’t the angel just disappear?  I compare this to times when my children and I wrestled or I entangled them within my body and had them wriggle their way out of the entanglement.  Sometimes during these fun encounters, they would end up wrapping their arms around my legs and sit on my feet wanting me to walk around with them.  Of course I would indulge them, but if this happened close to mealtime I might have to say, “Let go, Mommy has dinner on the table.”  Riding the feet was more important to them at the moment.  Could I pry their arms and legs away from me so that we could eat?  Certainly.  What did they want?  “One more ride, Daddy!  Pleeeeeeeeeeeease?”  My strength was manifest in my restraint of force; how much more so was the angel’s strength shown in restraint?

As I blessed my children with one more walk around the room, so the messenger from HaShem, and operating under His authority,  blessed Jacob.  As a child of mine, my daughters had power with me.  Did Jacob have a similar type of power with God?  Do we?  Do we even realize that we do?  I must confess that I don’t, not really.

My girls wrestled with me to get away, but then they wanted to hang on.  Was the wrestling match here one of Jacob desperately trying to flee the angel and also Esau, but then he decided to live life God’s way, and now he desperately hung on for one more ride, a blessing?

Observe the other part of the statement - “...and with men and hast prevailed.”  Look three paragraphs up and see the number of wrestlings and schemings in Jacob’s life with man.  Here he is, returning to the land of promise in accordance to the vow of Genesis 28: 20 - 21.  The one part of that vow that has not been accomplished is “so that I come again to my father’s house in peace.”  That was part of the deal for him to acknowledge HaShem as his God.   There is a 400 man army approaching!  That does not appear to be a representation of peace!

Perhaps when done with Jacob the angel had a task with Esau.  Or, maybe God appeared to Esau in a dream as He had done to Laban several days earlier.  We don’t know, but it is obvious that Esau has had a change of heart, also overnight.  As long as Jacob was Jacob (supplanter) in his own heart, God would not allow Esau’s heart to be soft enough to grant forgiveness.  Who of us could grant forgiveness to a supplanter, a deceiver?  However, one who prevails and is superior because he has a servant’s heart, he can be forgiven.  Supplanter became Prevailer overnight, and God softened Esau’s heart to allow forgiveness and a return to “my father’s house in peace.”

Many of the thoughts here are new to me this year, particularly regarding Rashbam and his thoughts.  I do wish to acknowledge that I gained most of this from www.restorationoftorah.org, a site I have used many times in the past.  The complete link to the pages I am referencing is http://restorationoftorah.org/WeeklyParsha/MBMVayishlach.pdf.

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