Sunday, November 10, 2013

Parashat Vayishlach ("and he sent"); Genesis 32:3-36:43 by Jon Eaton

Parashat Vayishlach ("and he sent");  Genesis 32:3-36:43    by Jon Eaton
This week's parashah begins with Jacob sending messengers to his brother Esau in the land of Edom in hope of reconciliation (and not being killed):

“And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.” Genesis 32:3

Rashi claimed that the "messengers" that Jacob sent to Esau were literally angels (מַלְאָכִים malachim), and the Hebrew text appears support this interpretation.   In verse 1 Jacob was met by angels and one verse later the “malachim” were sent to Esau.  Was Jacob able to command angels?  Just thinking out loud…

After learning about his oncoming brother who was bringing 400 armed men, Jacob prayed to the Lord, showing genuine teshuvah, possibly having learned what it was really like to be on the other side of trickery.   

Jacob was severely stressed and arose in the middle of the night to send his wives and children away to a safer place over the river Jabbock.  The Hebrew word Yabok יַבֹּק means “emptying”.  Jacob had finally emptied himself of his selfishness and personal pursuit of his destiny and was now left alone to struggle with the ‘man’ אִישׁ (ish).  It is later in verse 29 and 30 that this ‘man’ is revealed to be Elohim.   

The battle ensued all night and finally the man displaced Jacob’s hip in an effort to end the fight.  Jacob refused to let go until the man blessed him. The nameless man complied with, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob ("heel holder" of Esau) but Yisrael ("contender with God"), for as a prince (sar: שַׂר) you have contended (sarita: שָׂרִיתָ) /have power (from the root sarah: שָׂרָה) with God and with men and have prevailed" Genesis 32:28.  

This is a place of humility.  How often have we struggled with our own inadequacies but have unknowingly been struggling with HaShem and His purpose.  For example, Shaul asked HaShem three times to remove the thorn in his side in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.”  Shaul’s struggle was part of HaShem’s purpose.

After the blessing, Jacob finally confronted his brother Esau.  Jacob did not attempt to trick his brother Esau this time, but rather chose to face and engage him by sending a succession of servants bearing gifts to Esau in a vain attempt to "appease" him.   

In Genesis 32:21, the Hebrew word translated "appease" (אֲכַפְּרָה achaprah) comes from the verb khafar (כָפַר), from which the word "atonement" is derived (kippur: כִּפֻּר). Then Jacob went ahead of the entire family and bowed down seven times as he approached his twin brother. Wonderfully, Esau ran to Jacob, embraced him, and they wept together.  Some study into traditional customs reveal that the ruler of a house in the ancient middle-east (and also in some areas today) was never to be seen running, and required only the lowest servant to “run”.  

This also parallels the story of the prodigal son where the awaiting Father “ran” to meet his lost son, who was covered in pig filth and uncleanliness; yet instead of waiting for a lowly servant to run to the son or wait for an apology or even wait for the son to be clean from defilement and by default then being defiled Himself by touch, humbled himself and “ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” Luke 15:20.

Jacob then introduced his wives and children.

This was an answer to Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32:11-12, “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”  Sometimes it’s handy to remind ourselves of His promises to us and that His “Word” does not return void. Isaiah 55:11.

Further on in chapter 34 is the story of the rape and the retribution of Dinah (דִינָה which means ‘judgement’), Jacob’s daughter.  It appears that the Jacob’s sons had inherited his habit of deception when they tricked an entire city (Shechem) into being circumcised so that they might destroy it.

Jacob was horrified as we read in verse 30, “Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I.”  

Have you noticed that Jacob still shows no concern for Dinah?    This did not go unnoticed by Simeon and Levi who responded with, “But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?” (verse 31).  Maybe Dinah reminded him too much of her mother Leah or possibly Jacob saw this whole ordeal as the fulfilment of “judgement”?

After this turmoil, Jacob returned to Bethel to erect another alter of thanks and once again HaShem confirmed that his name had changed from Jacob to Israel and that his descendants would be many and finally that, “The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land”. Genesis 35:12
Jacob then left Bethel to return to his hometown of Hebron, but on the way Rachel died while giving birth to Jacob's twelfth son Benjamin ("son of the right hand") and was buried beside the road to Bethlehem (Ephrath).  

According to the Beersheet Rabbah, Jacob wept when he saw/knew that Rachel would not join him in burial (Beresheet Rabbah 70:11) and also that He foresaw that the exiles were destined to pass by (on the road to Ephrath); therefore he buried her there, that she should beg God's mercy for them, as it says: A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children (Yirmiyahu 31:14, Beresheet Rabbah 82:20).

Jacob finally arrives home to see his father, but the Torah is silent about their reunion.  If Genesis 1:1 is anything to go by, we may get to see that awkward moment as we watch history unfold (“et” אֵת – whilst ‘et’ is used to indicate that "a definite direct object is next" which is why there needs to be an ‘et’ before the heavens and the earth, it could also be used in the context of meaning wholeness- - i.e. the whole of creation from Aleph to Tav which would then by definition include us).  
Shortly afterward Isaac died and “gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him”. Genesis 35:29. 

The parashah ends with the genealogy of Esau. “These are the sons of Esau, who is Edom, and these are their dukes.”  Genesis 36:19.

By Jon Eaton

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