FROM THE TORAH
At the end of last week’s Sedra Vayetze, Jacob extracts himself and his family from life with Laban the Aramean in Charan. He is following God’s call to return to his native land, when his first challenge is to reconcile with his brother Esau after the events of the preceding Sedra Toledot. In this week’s Sedra Vayishlach, Jacob obtains a foothold on life in his promised land through a series of peculiar struggles with sibling, with strangers, with children, with himself, and with the Divine. He receives name recognition of success and an added blessing of fatherhood, but at the same time he loses his most cherished partner.
Jacob Returns to the Land of Canaan
JACOB PREPARES FOR REUNION WITH ESAU
Then Jacob “sends” (Vayishlach) messengers ahead to his brother Esau, in the land of Seir in the country of Edom. He charges the messengers to tell Esau that “your servant Jacob” has tarried until now with Laban, that he has acquired animals and servants, and that he sends this message to “my lord to seek your favor.”
The messengers report back to Jacob that Esau is “also coming to meet you,” together with 400 men! In great fear and distress, Jacob divides his people and his livestock into two camps, thinking that if Esau should attack one of the camps, then the other might escape. “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Eternal,” prays Jacob: “You have told me to return to my native land and that You would bestow Your benevolence upon me. I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have shown me, that I have crossed this Jordan with my staff and now have become two camps. Rescue me, I pray, from my brother Esau, who I fear will come and attack me, mother and children. You have promised to make my offspring as numerous as the sand of the sea!”
He spends the night there and sets aside gifts for his brother Esau: 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 nursing camels and calves, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female asses, and 10 male asses. He assigns his servants to drive them in separate groups, each some distance from the other. He prepares his servants to tell Esau, when the latter meets them in turn and inquires as to who owns the servants and the animals and where they are heading, that they are a gift for “my lord Esau” from “your servant Jacob,” who is behind us. He hopes to propitiate his brother with these waves of gifts, so that when Esau finally encounters Jacob at the end, he will show him favor.
JACOB WRESTLES AND BECOMES “ISRAEL”
In the meantime, Jacob gets up in the night and takes his two wives and his two maidservants and his eleven children, and he crosses the Jabbok ford. After he has brought them and all of his possessions across the river, he remains alone—and a man wrestles with him until dawn. When he sees that he cannot prevail against him, he wounds him in the hip socket, so that it is dislocated. He says, “Let me go, as the dawn is breaking,” and he says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” He asks Jacob his name and provides in response: “No more shall your name be ‘Jacob’ but ‘Israel,’ to show that you have ‘striven with God’ and with men and have prevailed!” Then, when Jacob says, “Please tell me your name,” he responds, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blesses him there. Jacob names the place Peniel (“Face of God”), “for I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.”
As he left Penuel, the sun was rising upon him and he was limping upon his hip. Therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the thigh ligament, which lies on the hip socket, to this day. This is because Jacob was wounded at the hip socket in the thigh ligament.
JACOB AND ESAU MEET
When Jacob himself sees Esau approaching with his 400 men, he divides the children among their respective mothers. He puts the maidservants with their children first, then Leah and her children, then Rachel and Joseph, and he passes before them. Jacob bows down to the ground seven times until he reaches his brother.
Esau runs to greet him, he hugs him, falling upon his neck kissing him, and they weep. Seeing the women and the children, Esau asks, “How are these related to you?” and he answers, “These are the children God has graciously bestowed upon your servant.” Then the maidservants and their children approach and bow down. Then Leah and her children approach and bow down. And finally Joseph and Rachel approach and bow down.
Then he asks, “For whom did you intend all that I have encountered?” and he says, “To find favor with my lord.” Esau responds, “I have enough, my brother, keep what is yours.” But Jacob urges his brother to accept his gifts: “For my seeing your face is like seeing the face of God in your having favored me. Accept, I pray, my blessing through what has been brought to you, as God has been gracious to me, and I have everything!” As he urges him, he accepts.
Esau then offers to accompany his brother on the remainder of his journey. “My lord knows,” responds Jacob, “that the children are delicate, that I have the burden of nursing flocks and herds, and that if they are overtaxed for even one day, all of the animals will die. Let my lord go ahead, and let me go at my own slow pace, until I catch up with my lord at Seir.” When Esau offers to assign him some of his own people for the journey, Jacob responds, “Really, why? Let me find favor in the eyes of my lord!” So Esau returns to Seir, while Jacob journeys to Sukkot, where he builds a house for himself and huts for his livestock. Therefore he called the place Sukkot (“Huts”).
DINAH IS DEFILED
Jacob arrives in peace at the city of Shechem, in the land of Canaan, on his return from Paddan Aram, encamping in view of the city. He purchases the site of his encampment from the children of Chamor, father of Shechem, for 100 kesitas. He sets up an altar there and calls it El Elohey Yisrael (“El God of Israel”).
Dinah was the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob (cf. Genesis 30:21). Now Dinah goes out to visit with the local women, and she is seen by Shechem, son of Chamor the Hivite, chief of the country. Shechem takes her and lies with her by force, and he falls in love with her. He asks his father Chamor to take her for him as a wife.
CHAMOR PROPOSES INTERMARRIAGE
When Jacob learns that his daughter has been defiled, his sons are with the cattle in the field, so Jacob says nothing until they come home. In the meantime Chamor goes out to speak with Jacob. But Jacob’s sons, then having heard, come in from the field. They are incensed, because Shechem’s lying with a daughter of Israel is a disgrace, which should never have happened. Chamor argues before them: “Shechem my son loves your daughter. Give her to him as a wife. Intermarry with us: give us your daughters, and take ours for yourselves. Dwell with us, the land is open to you, settle and travel in it, and acquire holdings in it.” Shechem says to them: “May I find favor in your eyes; whatever you say, however much, I shall give; only give her to me for a wife!”
DECEPTION AND SLAUGHTER
The answer from Jacob’s sons to Shechem and his father Chamor was a deception in response to the defilement of Dinah their sister: “We will agree to Chamor’s proposal of intermarriage and joint settlement and to Shechem’s specific marriage proposal with Dinah if you will be like us and circumcise all of your males. Then we will become one people, but we cannot give our sister to a man who has a foreskin, as that would be a disgrace for us!”
The terms were acceptable to Chamor and to Shechem his son. The young man does not hesitate to do the thing, out of his love for Jacob’s daughter, and he is the most respected person in his father’s house. They tell the men of their city that Jacob and his sons are their friends, that they will share the land with them and intermarry with them and become “one people if we circumcise every male as they are circumcised.” They also promise the men: “Their livestock and their property will be ours if we accept their terms.” All agree, and all of the males of the city are circumcised.
On the third day, when the men of the city are still in pain from the circumcisions, two of Jacob’s sons, Shimon and Levi, each with his sword, enter the city unchallenged, and kill every male, including Chamor and Shechem. They take Dinah from Shechem’s house, and then they depart. Jacob’s other sons, coming upon the slain, plunder the city which had defiled their sister. They take everything inside and outside of the city, their flocks and their herds and their asses, all of their wealth and everything in their houses. They take their children and their wives as captives.
Jacob reprimands Shimon and Levi: “You have made me odious to the inhabitants of the land, to the Canaanite and the Perizzite, while I am few in number, so that if they join together to attack me, I and my house will be destroyed.” Their response: “Shall our sister be treated like a harlot?”
JACOB RETURNS TO BETH EL WITH HIS FAMILY
God tells Jacob to go up to Beth El and make an altar there to the God who appeared to him when he was fleeing from Esau his brother (cf. Genesis 28:10-22). Jacob then instructs his household and all that are with him to remove their alien gods and to purify themselves and change their clothing. “Let us go up to Beth El,” he tells them, “and I will make an altar there to the God who answered me in my time of trouble and has been with me throughout my journey.” They hand over to Jacob all of their alien gods and their earrings. He puts them away under the terebinth that is near Shechem. As they travel, a fear of God settles upon the surrounding cities, so that they do not pursue the children of Jacob.
When Jacob and his entourage arrive at Luz, that is Beth El, in the land of Canaan, Jacob builds the altar and calls the place El Beth El (“God of Beth El”), for there God appeared to him when he fled from his brother.
Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, dies and is buried under the terebinth at Beth El, so he calls it Alon Bachut (“Weeping Terebinth”).
GOD RENAMES JACOB AS ISRAEL AT BETH EL
God appears to Jacob again on his arrival from Paddan Aram
and blesses him with these words:
You, whose name is Jacob,
shall no longer be called Jacob;
rather Israel shall be your name.
Thus He names him Israel,
and God says further:
I am El Shaddai (“God Almighty”).
Be fruitful and increase!
A nation and more
shall descend from you,
The Land which I have given
to Abraham and to Isaac
I give to you
and to your offspring.
Then God rises from upon him at the place where He spoke with him. Jacob erects a pillar of stone in that place and pours a libation upon it and pours oil upon it. He calls the place, where God spoke with him, Beth El (“House of God”).
RACHEL DELIVERS BENJAMIN AND DIES
On their journey from Beth El, when they are a short distance from Ephrath, Rachel experiences hard labor in childbirth. The midwife tries to reassure her that she is having another son (cf. Genesis 30:24). But she would not survive, and, as she dies, she calls him Ben-Oni (“My Son of Sorrow”), but his father named him Benjamin (“My Son of Strength”). Rachel is buried on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. Jacob sets up a pillar over her grave. It is the Pillar of the Grave of Rachel to this day. Israel continues the journey and pitches his tent beyond Migdal Eder. As Israel is dwelling in that land, Reuben goes and lies with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (see below), and Israel hears of it.
The sons of Jacob are now twelve in number. The sons of Leah are Jacob’s firstborn: Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel are Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, maidservant of Rachel, are Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, maidservant of Leah, are Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan Aram.
ISAAC IS BURIED BY HIS SONS
Jacob comes to Isaac his father at Mamre, Kiryat Ha-Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac lived. The days of Isaac are 180 years when he dies and is gathered to his people, old and fulfilled in days. He is buried by his sons Esau and Jacob.
GENERATIONS OF ESAU IN CANAAN AND IN EDOM
These are the generations of Esau, who is Edom. Esau married wives from the daughters of Canaan, who bore sons to him in the land of Canaan:
Adah daughter of Eylon the Hittite, and she bore to Esau: Eliphaz (cf. Job 2:11 et alibi).
Basemath daughter of Ishmael, sister of Nevayot, and she bore to Esau: Reuel (cf. Exodus 2:18 et alibi).
Oholivama daughter of Ana daughter of Tsiv’on the Hivite, and she bore to Esau: Yeush, Ya’lam, and Korach.
Then Esau moved his entire family—his wives, sons and daughters, and all others in his household—and all of their possessions, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, to Mount Seir, “because of Jacob his brother” and because their possessions were too great for the land of their sojournings to support them. The following grandsons of Esau, father of Edom, are listed among the generations of Mount Seir:
Sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Tsepho, Ga’tam, Kenaz
Timna (cf. Genesis 36:22), concubine of Eliphaz, bore to him: Amalek (cf. Exodus 17:8 et alibi)
Sons of Reuel: Nachath, Zerach, Shammah, Mizzah
All of the aforementioned sons of Eliphaz, Reuel, and Oholivama, are listed as chieftains of their respective clans in Edom.
Here is another list of chieftains of Esau, for their families and for their locations, by their names: Timna, Alvah, Yeteyt, Oholivamah, Eylah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mivtsar, Magdiel, and Iram. These are chieftains of Edom by their settlements in the land that they hold, of Esau father of Edom.
GENERATIONS OF SEIR THE CHORITE IN EDOM
These sons of Seir the Chorite were settled in the land of Edom: Lotan, Shoval, Tsiv’on, Ana, Dishon, Eytzer, and Dishan. All are listed as chieftains of their respective Chorite clans in the land of Seir. Their respective descendants are listed. The sister of Lotan is Timna (cf. Genesis 36:12). One of the sons of Shoval is Eyval (cf. Deuteronomy 11:29 et alibi). One of the sons of Tsiv’on is Ana, who found the yeymim in the wilderness when he was pasturing the asses of his father. One of the sons of Dishan is Utz (cf. Job 1:1).
CHRONOLOGY OF KINGS IN EDOM
Before a king reigned over the Children of Israel, there were kings who reigned in the land of Edom. There are listed eight successive kings, most with their fathers’ names and their cities of origin.
REMEMBRANCE OF BETH EL
Genesis 12:8 Sedra Lech-Lecha
Abram built an altar to the Eternal between Beth El on the west and Ai on the east, and there he invoked the Eternal by Name.
Genesis 13:1-4 Sedra Lech-Lecha
When Abram and his wife returned from Egypt, through the Negev, he returned to Beth El and again there invoked the Eternal by name.
Genesis 28:10-22 Sedra Vayetze
Jacob, leaving his parents and brother in Beersheba for his mother’s family in Charan, encounters “the place” for the night. He makes of its stones a pillow for his head and dreams of a ladder or stairway from the ground to heaven with angels of God ascending and descending on it, the Eternal standing upon it. “I am the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…”: He promises the Land upon which Jacob lies to him and to his offspring. His offspring shall become numerous: “You shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south.” “All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you and your offspring.” “I shall protect you and bring you back to this ground, never failing to carry out what I have promised you.”
Awaking from his sleep, Jacob relates his new knowledge of the presence of the Eternal in this “awesome” place, “the abode of God, the gate of heaven.” In the morning he sets up the stone he used for a pillow as a pillar (matzevah) and pours oil on top of it. He names the place, formerly called Luz, Beth El, “House of God.”
He vows that if God protects him on his journey and provides him with food, raiment and a safe return to his father’s house, “the Eternal shall be my God,” the stone pillar shall be the abode of God, “and of all that You give me, I shall set aside a tenth (tithe) for You.
Genesis 35:1-15 Sedra Vayishlach
Jacob was returning to Canaan from his mother’s family in Paddan-aram. Following the incident of Shechem (Genesis 34:1-31), in accordance with God’s command Jacob brings his household up to Beth El for protection and to “build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from Esau your brother.” At Jacob’s instruction they hand over to him their foreign gods and earrings, which he buries under the terebinth near Shechem, and he commands them: “Purify yourselves and change your clothes.” Meanwhile, a terror from God prevents the surrounding cities from pursuing the children of Jacob.
When they arrive in Luz, viz. Beth El, in the Land of Canaan, Jacob builds an altar and names the place “God of Beth El,” as God appeared to him there when he was fleeing from his brother. Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, dies and is buried nearby.
Now God appears to Jacob again. He announces the change of Jacob’s name to Israel (cf. Genesis 32:23-33) and promises him many descendants, “an assembly of nations,” including “kings,” “and the Land which I have given to Abraham and to Isaac, I give to you and to your offspring after you…”. There, where God had spoken to him, Jacob sets up a pillar (matzevah) of stone; he offers a libation over it and pours oil upon it, naming that place Beth El.
Beth El was one of many cities conquered in the Land, whose kings were defeated, by Joshua and the Children of Israel.
Judges 20:18,26-28; 21:2-4
Beth El was the place where the Children of Israel inquired of God during their war with the tribe of Benjamin. There they wept and remained before the Eternal, fasting throughout the day until evening, bringing burnt offerings and peace offerings. “The Ark of the Covenant of God was there in those days,” and Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron was serving as Kohen.
I Kings 12:25-33
Jeroboam, having led Israel in rebellion against Rehoboam, son of Solomon, king of Judah, installed golden calves at Beth El and at Dan in order to induce the people to worship at their altars instead of in Jerusalem. “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (cf. Exodus 32:4)!
“The din of war shall arise against your own people, and all of your fortresses shall be torn down, mothers dashed into pieces with their children; thus shall it be for you, O Beth El, for your most evil of ways!”
Amos 3:14; 4:4-5; 5:4-6
“On the day that I punish Israel for its sins, I will wreak punishment upon the altars of Beth El; the horns of the altar shall be hewn down and shall fall to the ground!”
“Come to Beth El and transgress…bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes at the end of three days; burn a thanksgiving offering from leavened bread, and publicize openly freewill offerings—for that is what you long to do, Children of Israel, declares My Lord God!”
II Kings 17:24-34
Following the Assyrian conquest of the rebellious tribes in Samaria, the king of Assyria transferred to Samaria people from other parts of his empire. These immigrants were attacked by lions incited by the Eternal for their ignorance of the law of the God of the Land. So the king ordered that one of the Kohanim whom He had exiled from Samaria return and teach them the law. The Kohen settled in Beth El. His effort proved only partially effective.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Vayishlach
Prophecy Against Esau
The vision of Obadiah:
Thus says the Lord God
We have heard a report from the Eternal,
an envoy has been dispatched to the nations:
Let us rise up against it for war!
I shall reduce you to the smallest of nations,
Your arrogance misleads you,
you who hide in the high rocks’ concealment,
thinking: who can bring us down to earth?
If you should rise up as the eagle
and build your nest between the stars,
from there will I bring you down,
says the Eternal.
If thieves broke in and robbed you,
would you not be their helpless prey?
How you would be ruined!
Esau’s hidden places have been uncovered.
Your allies have betrayed you
out of your borders.
Those who were at peace with you
have prevailed against you;
they have turned your very bread
into a weapon against you
without your understanding.
Indeed I have destroyed wise men from Edom,
and the warriors of Teman (cf. Genesis 36:11,15,42) shall be shattered
so that there will be no defense from the killing.
You are covered with shame
for allowing violence to overwhelm your brother Jacob,
when aliens entered the gates of Jerusalem
and you behaved like the adversary.
Gloat not over the children of Judah in the day of their loss,
revel not in its bad fortune on the day of its calamity.
Take nothing of what was its wealth,
and stand not at the crossroads
to close the way of those who escape.
For the day of the Eternal
impinges upon all of the nations:
As you have done,
so shall be done to you.
As you enjoyed the cup on My holy mountain,
so shall all of the nations drink continually
and become what they had not been.
But on Mount Zion shall be found a remnant:
it shall be holy,
and the House of Jacob shall inherit their possessions.
The House of Jacob shall be a fire,
and the House of Joseph, a flame,
but the House of Esau shall be stubble,
which fire shall consume.
There will be no remnant for the House of Esau,
as the Eternal has spoken.
The South shall possess the Mountain of Esau,
and the Lowland, the Philistines;
they shall inherit
the country of Ephraim
and the country of Samaria,
and Benjamin shall inherit the Gilead.
The captives of the Children of Israel,
who are among the Canaanites as far as Tsarephat,
and the exile of Jerusalem which is in Sepharad,
shall possess the cities of the Negev.
The saviors shall ascend Mount Zion
to judge the mount of Esau,
and the kingdom shall be the Eternal’s.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Genesis Rabbah 75:1
When will the Eternal arise?
Isaac had blessed Esau:
“By your sword shall you live,
and your brother shall you serve,
but when you grow restless,
you shall throw off his yoke
from upon your neck!”
Then, when Jacob dreamt of a ladder at Beth El,
the Eternal promised him:
“I shall protect you wherever you go
and bring you back to this Land!”
Why then did Jacob find it necessary to:
“Send messengers ahead to his brother Esau”
out of fear that Esau would attack him?
Rabbi Pinchas in the name of Rabbi Reuben
cited five instances of David’s explicit plea to the Holy One, blessed be He,
to rise up and protect him:
“Arise, O Eternal; save me, O my God…!” (Psalms 3:8)
“Arise, O Eternal, in Your anger…against my enemies…!” (Psalms 7:7)
“Arise, O Eternal, O God lift up Your hand…!” (Psalms 10:12)
“Arise, O Eternal, let not man prevail…!” (Psalms 9:20)
“Arise, O Eternal…go ahead…save me
from the wicked by Your sword!” (Psalms 17:13)
So pleaded Jacob out of fear before Esau:
“Save me from the sword of your wicked one!”
But the Holy One, blessed be He, would say: David, My son, however much you plead, I shall not arise except before the oppressed and the impoverished, as is written, “From the plight of the oppressed, from the cry of the impoverished, that is when I shall arise” (Psalms 12:6)!
“From the plight of the oppressed,
from the cry of the impoverished,
that is when I shall arise!”
Rabbi Shimon bar Yonah interpreted:
As long as I am buried in the dust, as it were, I cannot arise, until the day comes of which the prophet spoke, “Shake yourself from the dust, O Jerusalem; arise, sit up…” (Isaiah 52:2)! In that hour, “Be silent, all flesh, before the Eternal, for He has roused Himself from His holy habitation” (Zechariah 2:17):
“From the plight of the Oppressed,
from the cry of the Impoverished,
that is when I shall arise!”
“Arise, O Eternal…go ahead…save me
from the wicked by Your sword!” (Psalms 17:13)
Save me from the wicked one who is Your sword,
the nation by which You oppress the world!
Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin in the name of Rabbi Levi:
Save me from the wicked nation,
who will, in the future, fall by Your sword!
Genesis Rabbah 76:2
Lest I Be Killed, Lest I Kill!
“In great fear and distress,
Jacob divides his people and his livestock
into two camps…”
Said Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Ilai: Aren’t “fear” and “distress” the same thing? Not exactly. He was in fear, lest he be killed at the hands of Esau and his men, as he thought: If he overpowers me, he will kill me. He was in distress lest he be forced to kill, because he also thought: If I overpower him, then I will kill him.
Genesis Rabbah 76:3
Preservation of a Remnant
“Jacob divides his people and his livestock
into two camps,
if Esau should attack one of the camps,
then the other could escape.”
Here the Torah is teaching us derech eretz, a practical lesson for life: “One should not put all of one’s wealth in a single corner.” (Comparable to: Do not put all of your eggs in one basket!) Not only do we learn this from Jacob, but also from Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace: “When Jezebel was killing the priests of the Eternal, Obadiah hid a hundred prophets, fifty to a cave…” (I Kings 18:4)!
Genesis Rabbah 78:8
Midrash Psalms 103:14
“When Jacob himself sees Esau approaching with his 400 men,
he divides the children among their respective mothers:
first he puts the maidservants with their children,
then after them Leah and her children,
and last Rachel and Joseph.”
Jacob arranged his family in such an order that his maidservants and their children were seemingly exposed to the danger of Esau most immediately, followed behind by his less-preferred wife and their children, and finally—last of the last—by his beloved Rachel and their son. Since they are arranged in inverse degree of peril, there emerges the lesson: “The last of the last is most cherished!”
“Then Jacob passes before them
and bows down to the ground seven times
until he reaches his brother!”
“As a father has compassion upon his children,
so does the Eternal have compassion upon those who fear Him.
For He knows how we are formed [yitzreynu];
He is mindful that we are dust.”
Notwithstanding the order by which he arranged his family, Jacob exposes himself first and foremost to the danger of Esau by “passing before them.” The Eternal is likened to “a father who has compassion upon his children”; Jacob is that father!
Rabbi Chiya, however, interpreted the verse as meaning, “As the most compassionate father of all fathers,” possibly because a simile merely in reference to one compassionate parent would normally be referenced to the mother!
Rabbi Chiya’s interpretation leads to the question:
Who was “the most compassionate father of all fathers?”
Rabbi Judah answered: Abraham, as he confronted “the Judge of all the earth” on behalf of the Sodomites, “Far be it from You to destroy the righteous along with the wicked!” (Genesis 18:25)
Rabbi Levi answered: Jacob, who “passed before them” (Genesis 33:3), thinking, “Better that he should attack me and not them!” “For he (Jacob!) knows our evil impulse [yitzreynu]; he (Jacob!) is mindful that we are dust” (Psalms 103:14)! As Rabbi Chiya reflected, “Woe to the dough that the baker demonstrates is rotten!”
Why did Jacob “bow down to the ground seven times” (Genesis 33:3)?
In keeping with the wisdom, “A righteous person may fall seven times, but then he gets up; while the wicked stumble hopelessly in their evildoing” (Proverbs 24:16)!
Another explanation: By bowing seven times, Jacob was signaling to Esau, “See yourself as a Roman judge (who sat behind seven security barriers), and as I am being judged by you, you are filled with compassion for me!
Rabbi Chaninah bar Yitzchak: Jacob was not moving physically towards Esau, but he was repeatedly rejecting verdicts of strict justice, until finally, after seven rejections, he broke through to the verdict of mercy!
“Esau runs to greet him,
he hugs him,
he falls upon his neck,
he kisses him,
and they weep.”
In the Torah, “he kisses him” is one word: vayishakehu,
written with a dot over each letter.
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar taught about dots over letters of a word:
- Where there are more dots than letters, drop the letters without the dots and base the midrash only upon the word that remains from the letters with the dots.
- Where there are more letters than dots, the midrash is a delimiting of the entire word as written.
- Where there is a dot only over every letter, first interpret the word according to its contextual meaning (as written) but even more strongly, as here:
“Esau kisses Jacob with great enthusiasm!”
Then base the midrash upon the entire word
but as if the dots change it in some way.
Rabbi Yannai interpreted thus:
Instead of “he kisses him” [vayishakehu], read “he bites him” [vayishachehu]! Whereupon the neck of our father Jacob turned to marble, preventing Esau from succeeding to injure his brother, but resulting in that wicked one’s teeth being blunted! The dots, for their part, have pulled apart the one word for “he kisses him” [vayishakehu] into two words: “Ouch” [vayi] “that they have been blunted” [shekahu]! Over this “they weep” (ibid.): Esau for his blunted teeth and Jacob for his stiff neck!
Genesis Rabbah 77:3
Jacob urges his brother to accept his gifts,
“for my seeing your face
is like seeing the face of God
in your having favored me.”
It does not seem likely that Jacob would compare Esau to God
or that Jacob would be obsequious to him for that reason.
Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Chaninah taught: Jacob is comparing the face of his brother Esau to the face of the man who wrestled with him earlier (Genesis 32:25ff.) and whom he called “God” (Genesis 32:31): “When he (the man) sees that he cannot prevail against him (Jacob), he (the man) wounds him (Jacob) in the hip socket” (Genesis 32:26). Jacob may be likened to an athlete who was wrestling with the king’s son. For an instant the athlete glanced up and saw the king standing over him, whereupon he surrendered to his son. This, then, is how to interpret what is written: “He (Jacob!) sees that he cannot prevail against him (the man, Esau!)” (Genesis 32:26a).
Rabbi Levi agrees that it is Jacob who “sees” (ibid.), but he offers a different interpretation of what Jacob “sees”: “He sees that it (the Shechina, the ‘Divine Presence’) cannot prevail against him (Jacob)” (ibid.)! But, then, who was victorious: Jacob, who withstood the angel, or the angel, who wounded Jacob?
Rabbi Berechiah answers that question from the preceding verse, “A man wrestles with him” (Genesis 32:25b). The Hebrew word for “wrestle” means literally, “A man gets covered with dust…,” so the wrestler, the angel, the “man,” had to be on the bottom. Therefore Jacob was on the top!
A different interpretation, but with a similar outcome:
“He sees that he cannot prevail against him…”
Rabbi Chaninah bar Yitzchak taught: The Holy One, blessed be He, told the angel that Jacob had five protections: his father’s merit, his mother’s merit, his grandfather’s merit, his grandmother’s merit, and his own merit. Consider, He said, whether you can stand up even to Jacob’s own merit. At that point the angel “sees that he cannot prevail [even] against him!”
This may be likened to a king who had a wild dog and a gentle lion. The king cultivated in his son a closeness to the lion, so that if the dog tried to attack him, the king would say to the dog: The lion has not succeeded in dominating him, why do you think you can? Similarly, when the nations of the world start to attack Israel, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them: Your angel could not stand up against Jacob, why do you think that you can dominate his children?
“He wounds him
in the hip socket…”
He harms the future righteous men and women, the prophets and the prophetesses, who would emerge from the loins of Jacob in the generations of the Roman persecutions, which sought to uproot Judaism and the pillars of Torah.
Genesis Rabbah 78:1
Midrash Psalms 91:6; 104:3
Who is greater?
“A man wrestles with Jacob until dawn…
he says, ‘Let me go, as the dawn is breaking…’”
“Because you held the Eternal, Most High,
as your dwelling place,
no harm will befall you…
He will command His angels
to guard you in all of your paths;
they will carry you in their hands
lest you hurt your foot on a stone!”
Who was greater: Jacob or the angel?
Rabbi Judah analyzed the question: Who is greater, the releaser or the released? When Jacob encountered the angel, how did the prophet describe it? “He strove with an angel, and he prevailed” (Hosea 12:5)! What did the angel say? “Let me go, as the dawn is breaking” (Genesis 32:27)! So Jacob was in control: he released the angel!
Rabbi Meir asked: But then, who is greater, the guard or the guarded? From what is written, “Because you held the Eternal…as your dwelling place,…He will command His angels to guard you…” (Psalms 91:9,11), I would have to say: the guarded! For the same reason, when Rabbi Judah asked: Who is greater, the carrier or the carried? I would have to say: the carried! As Rabbi Meir explained: Were it not for his meritorious acts, he would not have been guarded or carried.
Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent. Belarus): The guard serves the need of the guarded, who is therefore greater than his servant the guard; and the same is true for the carrier, who serves the need of the carried, who is therefore greater than his servant the carrier. Likewise, the releaser is superior to the released, as the released obeys the releaser.
Matnot Kehunah (Yissachar Ber Hakohen, 16th cent. Poland): A righteous person is the foundation of the world, and all of the world, including angels, were created only to serve them.
Genesis Rabbah 80:8
The answer from Jacob’s sons
to Shechem and his father Chamor
was a deception in response
to the defilement of Dinah their sister…
Jacob’s sons transmitted the true Holy Spirit when they referred to the defilement of their sister by Shechem. But what “deception” was there in their response? They responded to the plan put forward by Chamor and his son Shechem, which their townsmen accepted: “Their cattle and their wealth and all of their beasts will be ours” (Genesis 34:23)! The townsmen intended to outwit Jacob and his sons, but in the end the would-be outwitters were themselves outwitted.
Genesis Rabbah 80:10
Headstrong Sons, Headstrong Brothers
“Two of Jacob’s sons,
Shimon and Levi…
enter the city unchallenged
and kill every male.”
Why was it necessary to say, “Two of Jacob’s sons?” We already know this from “Shimon and Levi!” Rather, the insertion of “Two of Jacob’s sons” is meant in the sense of “Even though two of Jacob’s sons,” they refused to follow the advice of their father. Then, “Shimon and Levi,” are mentioned as the pair rather than individuals, as neither of them took advice from the other.
Genesis Rabbah 82:10
Rachel’s Enduring Remembrance
and is buried on the road to Ephrath,
which is Bethlehem.
Jacob sets up a pillar over her grave.”
We have learned in the Mishnah (Shekalim 2:5): Charitable funds collected for the burial of the dead, in excess of the actual cost, are restricted to future charitable burials. Rabbi Nathan said: They may be used to build a monument over one’s grave.
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel taught: Gravestones are not erected for the righteous. Their words are their remembrances.
Why did our father Jacob bury Rachel on the road to Ephrath? Jacob our father foresaw that the exiles from Jerusalem would pass by there, therefore he buried her there so that she could plead for mercy on their behalf. That is what is written: “A voice is heard in Ramah—lamentation, bitter weeping—Rachel is weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31:15).
Talmud Sanhedrin 39b
“Ahab calls to Obadiah,
who was in charge of the palace,
and Obadiah feared the Eternal greatly.”
(I Kings 18:3)
Rabbi Isaac explained what Ahab (king of Israel) said to Obadiah to elicit Scripture’s observation that Obadiah feared the Eternal: Ahab pointed out to Obadiah that Laban had said to Jacob, “The Eternal has blessed me because of you” (Genesis 30:27). Also, regarding Joseph it is written, “The Eternal blessed the house of the Egyptian (Potiphar) because of Joseph” (Genesis 39:5). But this palace has not been blessed (by a resumption of rain), so perhaps it is because you do not fear God? At that, a divine voice was heard, saying, “’Obadiah has feared the Eternal greatly’ (I Kings 18:3), but the House of Ahab is not deserving of blessing!”
Rabbi Abba observed that “greatly,” which was applied to Obadiah’s fear of the Eternal, is more than what the angel said about Abraham, “Do not extend your hand against the boy (Isaac)…for now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12)!
Rabbi Isaac explained: What qualified Obadiah for prophecy? He hid one hundred prophets in caves: “When Jezebel (wife of Ahab) persecuted the prophets of the Eternal, Obadiah protected them by hiding them, fifty prophets to a cave…” (I Kings 18:4). Why only fifty to a cave? Rabbi Abahu explained: Only fifty because that was the maximum number that one cave could hold. Said Rabbi Elazar: He learned what to do from Jacob, who divided his people and his livestock into two separate camps, thinking that if Esau should attack one of the camps, then the other could escape” (Genesis 32:8-9).
“The vision of Obadiah:
Thus says the Lord God
What qualified Obadiah
(out of other prophets)
to prophesy against Edom?
Rabbi Isaac explained that the Holy One, blessed be He, determined: Let Obadiah, who lives among two wicked people (Ahab and Jezebel) and is not adversely influenced by them, come and prophesy against wicked Esau, who lived among two righteous people (Isaac and Rebecca), and learned nothing from their examples!
Ephraim Maksha’ah, student of Rabbi Meir, explained in the name of Rabbi Meir: Obadiah was of Edomite origin, as they say: Let the handle of the axe come from the forest which the axe will fell! Similarly, regarding David, descended from Ruth the Moabite, who “defeated Moab…” (II Samuel 8:2), according to Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai they say: Let the handle of the axe come from the forest which the axe will fell! When Rav Dimi came, he put it this way: A beam rots from within!
Tanchuma Tsav 2
The Rise and Fall of Edom
“The punishment of Ephraim is secured…
I (God) shall be [ehi]
your words of death;
I (God) shall be [ehi]
your decree [kotav’cha] of She’ol (death);
regretfulness shall be hidden [yisater] from My eyes!”
“If you should rise up as the eagle
and build your nest among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
says the Eternal.”
This is the kingdom of Edom (understood as Rome),
which exalted itself (“rose up as the eagle”)…
In the world to come, when the Holy One, blessed be He, exacts punishment from Esau (understood as Edom; cf, Genesis 25:30, 32:4, 36:1,8, et alibi), what will Esau do? He will wrap himself in a tallit, like a pious old man, and come and sit beside Jacob. Whence do we have this? “If you should rise up as the eagle and build your nest among the stars” (Obadiah 1:4a), where “the stars” refers to Israel, as the Eternal said to Abraham, “Look up, if you would, towards heaven, and count the stars…thus shall be your offspring” (Genesis 15:5)! What then will Jacob say to him? You may be my brother, but you are not brotherly, as was said by the prophet, “My brother [achi], your words (plural) are death; my brother [achi], your descent [kotav’cha in Greek] shall be to She’ol (underworld of death); but the epitome of regretfulness shall remain [yishtayer]” (Hosea 13:14b):
“My brother, your two words are death,” you as Edom (Rome) have imposed upon me two decrees of death. You decreed that I should engage in idolatry, which would compel my death under the law of God, and if I refused, then you would kill me.
“My brother,” stay not here with me, enwrapped in your tallit, but go where you belong: “Descend to She’ol!”
Then Jacob alone will remain, as was said, “Two portions of the world, says the Eternal, will be cut off and perish, but there shall remain a third part, which I shall purify and refine through fire” (Zechariah 13:8-9), and “Israel shall be the third” (Isaiah 19:24), which “I have made worthless and humiliated before every people” (Malachi 2:9), Israel, the epitome of regretfulness. Therefore, when Esau has been removed from the world, the Holy One, blessed be He, and Israel, shall remain! “The Eternal embraces him alone, and for him there is no other as God” (Deuteronomy 32:12).