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Parashot

Vayishlach (and he sent)

Genesis 32:4(3) to 36:43, Obidaya 1-21; Hosea 11:7 to 12:12

Notes

Did God warn Esav not to harm Ya'akov, as God had earlier warned Lavan? Why didn't the angels from 32:1 stay with Ya'akov to protect him?

We know from Gen 29:1-11 that Ya'akov is incredibly strong. We also know he is persistant. When he wrestles he needs both. Gen 32:32 is the first instance of "sons of Israel".

At the time when Ya'akov meets Esav, God has told Ya'akov that the land-inheritance is truly his. But God has not affirmed his theft of the agricultural bessings from their father (Genesis 27:27-29). Moreover, these agricultural blessings have not happened: Ya'akov has been a shepherd, not a farmer. He owns "cattle, donkeys, sheep, servants, and maids" (32:6), not the promised "dew of the sky and the fat of the land".

Thus we read that even after Esav says, "Let what is yours remain yours" (33:9), legitamizing the theft of the birthright and blessings, Ya'akov still says "Please accept now my blessing (bir-chati)" (33:11). Ya'akov wants to repent and give back the agricultural blessing. Esav accepts. And so the people of Israel, throughout the Tenach remain notable shepherds but not notable farmers.

In verse 34:31 the letter zayin in the word hach'zonah ("as a harlot") is written large. If this letter is omitted, the resulting word is ha'chonah ("the labeling with a title"). Perhaps Dinah's brothers do not want her to be labelled as a harlot, or perhaps they do not want her to receive the title "princess of the city of Shechem" which would separate her from both family and God's promised lineage.

In the previous verse, Ya'akov complains to Shimon and Levi that "you stirred up/disturbed me to make me odios/stinky". His reputation was recently changed from that of someone crooked to that of someone staright and upright. Now he is worried that his sons have undone what he gained at the river Yabok. But soon afterwards God assures him that his "name" has not reverted from Yisrael to Ya'akov.

This Parsha has two anachronisms. In verse 34:7 the phrase "an outrage in Israel" is used before the self-concept of a people of Israel was established. In verse 36:31 the phrase "before any king reigned over the sons of Israel" is similarly out of place, for the single household is far from thoughts of being a nation with a king.

The name Binyamin is related to many words. As Ben-oni it meant "son of my suffering" to Rachel in verse 35:18. To Ya'akov it could mean ben-yameen, either "son of the south" or "son of my right hand". Alternately, Ya'akov could have thought of ben-yameem, "son of my years" (i.e., "of my old age"). And some commentators have suggested Ya'akov and Rachel both considered Ya'akov's curse of verse 31:32 to have killed Rachel, suggesting that Rachel might have considered Ben-oni to remember ben-avonee ("son of my iniquity").

The Torah scroll has an odd space after verse 35:22, suggesting the author either knew more of the story orally or had removed some from the record. When Absalom rebels against his father the revolt began by taking his father's concubines; perhaps that was foreshadowed here.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

The same Hebrew word is used for "angels" (32:1) and "messengers" (32:3). It is possible Ya'akov sent angels to Esav! Perhaps this explains why, although Esav did not give any reply to the messengers, Esav did not harm them.

Even Shoev and Toldot Yitzchak write that when verse 32:8 says Ya'akov was "frightened and distressed" it refers to two different reactions. Ya'akov is frightened that Esav might harm him or his family. Ya'akov is distressed because, twenty years ago, Esav had vowed to kill Ya'akov after their father died; perhaps Esav's appearance means that Yitzchak has died.

In verse 32:11, the letter tet in the word katon'tee ("I am small") is sometimes written small. This is to show that even a man humbling himself is still smaller than he professes to be—in the midst of "I am unworthy" there is something even more unworthy.

The name of the river, Yabok, sounds like the word va'yay-avayk, "he struggled" in verse 32:25.

The Torah gives us a constant reminder of Ya'akov's struggle the prohibition on eating the aid hanasheh (sciatic nerve). Sforno explains that we thereby show that the place where Ya'akov was wounded is not important. That is how a person must deal with failure. When you fail in one area you cannot become depressed over it. What's the aid hanasheh-nothing important. We throw it away. Every time a person refrains from eating the aid hanasheh, he is reminded not to be overwhelmed by adversity.

Similarly, Chafetz Chaim explains that even Tish B'Av, the day of great tradgedies, produces the incentive to achieve and produce.

Efraim Levine, citing Rashi, suggests that Ya'akov was given the name "Ya'akov" twice, once when he was born and a second time later by God. When Ya'akov was born his father names him, for the verse says "that he called him Ya'akov" (Genesis 25:26); Yitzchak was declaring that Ya'akov would be subservient to Esav. After wresting with the angel this name was removed. However, later when God confirmed the new name Yisrael, God also chose to again name him "Ya'akov" but this time emphasizing that Ya'akov would be subservient to Hashem.

The Tz'enah Ur'enah suggests that Ya'akov tries to repent of stealing the paternal agricultural blessing from Esav by showing that it has not been granted yet except in livestock, and by sending the most fruitful core of 550 of his livestolk to Esav. Ya'akov also emphasizes that he has been a servant, in contrast to Yitzchak's blessing which foretold he would be a ruler.

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum comments that in verse 32:23 there is a child missing: "And he took his two wives, his two handmaids, and his eleven sons." What happened to Dinah, Ya'akov's daughter? Rashi taught that Ya'akov hid her in a box, so Esav would not see her and want her for a wife. Rashi adds that Ya'akov was punished for this when Dinah went out and was violated by Shechem. Rashi claims Ya'akov should have been sensitive to his brother's needs, and perhaps Dinah might been a positive influence on Esav.

Jeffrey Feinberg notes that we are not sure Sh'chem raped Dinah. The verb anah means to humiliate or humble, and could be used for both rape or for taking a woman without the proper formalities. See Deuteronomy 21:14, 22:24, and 22:29.

The Torah describes how Shimon and Levi attacked the city and ransacked it, adding that it was "because they defiled their sister". Who is "they", asks the Torah Temimah? It was Sh'chem the Prince who had abducted Dinah, so why implicate an entirely innocent community? The Rambam echoes this question by noting Ya'akov's anger with Shimon and Levi: if the whole town had been guilty, why would Ya'akov have been upset at his sons fearlessly pursuing justice? The traditional answer, provided by the Torah Teminah, is that the people of Sh'chem did not have law-courts and did not judge themselves; since God desires justice, their lack of justice was an offense significant enough for the entire town to earn punishment. But Genesis 20:9 and Deuteronomy 24:4 suggest that an enitre community shares the guilt of a sexual crime.

In verse 34:10 the word sachar means "moving about to do business". What is being discussed by the people of Shechem is whether to offer the children of Ya'akov both use of land and a status similar to licensed merchants. Since Ya'akov was wealthy and had many sons this seemed smart to the men of Shechem: Ya'akov's family would be buying goods from their city, and when those eleven sons married each would pay for a bride, further transfering wealth from Ya'akov's family to the city.

Why is Ya'akov's new name of Israel re-empahsized in verse 35:10? Rashi answers that Ya'akov had still been acting craftily, both in hiding Dinah from Esav and in delaying returning to Beth El as he had vowed after his dream of the ladder. Now both of those events have met their consequences, and Ya'akov forsakes trying to be crafty. Thus he truly has shifted from being Ya'akov ("crooked", "crafty", "heel") to being Yisrael ("straight", "upright", or "striving" ... "with God").

Rashi taught that to compensate Esav's head-start in monarchy, Ya'akov's descendants placed on the throne eight kings who would diminish the monarchy in Edom: Shaul, Ishboshes, David, Shlomoh, Rechavam, Aviyah, Asa and Yehoshafat. In a parallel way, Esav has eight kings. But after Hadad dies (1 Chron 1:51) that monarchy shatters and regional chieftains rule.

A Canaanite princes (Timna, grandaughter of Se'ir the Horite; Gen 14:6) marries into the family of Abraham through Esav's son, resulting in the Amalekites (Gen 36:12, 1 Chron 1:36, Ex 17:14-16, Deut 25:17-18).

The term aluf ("chief") is used only in regard to the descendants of Esav (verse 36:15, for example). The descendants of Yishmael are referred to as nasi ("prince"). Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner explains that this difference in terminology indicates a disparity in their relationship to the people of Israel. The term aluf refers to a sovereign without a crown (Sanhedrin 99a), and Esav deserves the name of monarch in only a limited sense for as a nation he only endures until that day when "the saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Esav's mountain, and the kingdom will be Adonai's" (Obadyah 1:21). Yishmael was bestowed the lesser title of nasi, which is primarily an honorary appellation with no power attributed to it. Esav inherited something tangible: Mount Se'ir. But Yishmael receives no inheritance. Rav Hutner expoundeds in light of B'nei Yishmael's current bloodthirsty desire for a share in Eretz Yisrael: the descendants of Esav own their own land and thus feel no motivation to demand a portion in our Holy Land, but the descendants of Yishmael have no legitimite promise of land and thus forcefully demanding a share of someone else's inheritance.