The Tribe of Binyamin, Marc Chagall 1962 PNG

Vayishlach | פרשת וישלח

Sefer Shemot | ספר שמות

Shemot 1:1-6:1  [Hebcal] [על-התורה] שמות א א-ו א

Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 1:1-2:3 (Sefardi) | Yeshayahu 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23 (Ashkenazi) | Yechezkel 16:1-14 (Teimani)

[על-התורה] (תימנים) הפטרה: ירמיהו א א- ב ג (ספרגים) | ישעיהו כז ו- כח יג; כט כב – כג (אשכנזים) | יחזקאל טז א-יד


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The vayishlach with which the parsha opens refers to Yaakov’s efforts to protect himself and then appease his brother’s vengeful anger. All of the actions that he takes, including sending out scouts, dividing his household into two camps, wrestling with a shadowy figure at night that leaves him limping for the rest of his life, the prayers, the gifts he extends towards Esav⁠—these all bear deep ethical significance along with their literal meaning. Also in Parashat Vayislach: a second purchase of land in Israel, the upsetting story of Dinah, the birth of Binyamin and Rachel’s death in childbirth, the death of Yitzchak, and a detailed lineage of Esav, whose descendants seeded the southern Levant and Mediterranean with nations, eventually encompassing the mighty Roman Empire.

(Content warning: this parsha guide includes sexual assault.)

Reuniting with Esav

[Bereshit 32:4]

Yaakov sends out messengers to the Land of Seir (“hairy”) in the country of Edom (“ruddy”) where Esav lives. They report back that Esav is approaching with 400 men. Fearful, Yaakov decides to divide his household and livestock into two camps, reasoning that if one is attacked, the other will survive.

Yaakov then utters a long, moving prayer of gratitude and entreaty to Hashem (the most-cited parts are bolded below):

אֱלֹקי אָבִי אַבְרָהָם וֵאלֹקי אָבִי יִצְחָק ה’ הָאֹמֵר אֵלַי שׁוּב לְאַרְצְךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתְּךָ וְאֵיטִיבָה עִמָּךְ: קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִי לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת: הַצִּילֵנִי נָא מִיַּד אָחִי מִיַּד עֵשָׂו כִּי יָרֵא אָנֹכִי אֹתוֹ פֶּן יָבוֹא וְהִכַּנִי אֵם עַל בָּנִים: וְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ הֵיטֵב אֵיטִיב עִמָּךְ וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת זַרְעֲךָ כְּחוֹל הַיָּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִסָּפֵר מֵרֹב:

“O G-d of my father Avraham and G-d of my father Yitzchak, O Hashem, Who said to me, ‘,’Return to your native land and I will deal bountifully with you’! I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant: with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and children alike. Yet You have said, ‘I will deal bountifully with you and make your offspring as the sands of the sea, which are too numerous to count.’”

Bereshit 32:10-13

Yaakov prepares generous gifts to present to Esav in an attempt to mollify him and sends them ahead. That night, Yaakov goes with his two wives, two maidservants, and his eleven sons and crosses the ford of Yabok (Maavar Yabok – מַעֲבַר יַבֹּק), Yabok being the name of a river. He takes them across, then sends his possessions, which leaves him alone.

A Night of Struggling with the Angel

[Bereshit 32:25]

Alone, in the dark of night, a figure (ish) wrestles (vayeavek) with Yaakov until the break of dawn (וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר). Seeing that Yaakov is prevailing over him, the angel wrenches Yaakov’s hip at the socket, injuring him. He asks Yaakov to let him go, as dawn in breaking. But Yaakov does not yield, saying: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחֲךָ כִּי אִם בֵּרַכְתָּנִי). The angel asks Yaakov his name, and, informed of it, says, “Your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven (sarita) with beings divine and human and have prevailed” (עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי שָׂרִיתָ עִם אֱלֹקים וְעִם אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל). Yaakov asks the shadowy figure to reveal his own name, but he refuses to say and leaves.

Yaakov names the site of the struggle Peniel (פְּנִיאֵל), “the face of G-d,” because “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (כִּי רָאִיתִי אֱלֹקים פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים וַתִּנָּצֵל נַפְשִׁי). The sun rises upon him as he limps past Peniel. We are then told:

עַל כֵּן לֹא יֹאכְלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת גִּיד הַנָּשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר עַל כַּף הַיָּרֵךְ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה כִּי :נָגַע בְּכַף יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב בְּגִיד הַנָּשֶׁה

That is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat the sinew (gid ha-nasheh) that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the thigh muscle.

Bereshit 32:33

This is the third and final mitzvah found in Sefer Bereshit, though see Chullin 101b, which explains that though the mitzvah is mentioned here, due to its relationship to the narrative, the actual commandment was not given to Bnei Yisrael until Sinai.1

Reconciliation?

[Bereshit 33:1]

Seeing Esav approaching, Yaakov further divides up his camp, separating the maidservants and their children first, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and Yosef. Approaching his estranged brother, Yaakov bows deeply seven times. Esav’s response is to run to greet him, kissing him and weeping. Rashi brings two possible ways of understanding this action: first, that it is a reaction to Yaakov’s sincere humility; and second, as in the baraita in Sifrei Bemidbar 69:2 (on Parashat Behaalotcha), that the hateful Esav was dissembling.2

Yaakov introduces Esav to his family. Esav refuses Yaakov’s gifts, saying that he has enough, but Yaakov insists. Esav then offers to travel with Yaakov at whatever pace he wants, but Yaakov suggests that Esav go ahead, since he is going to be moving slowly with children and young animals.

A Fateful Parcel of Land

[Bereshit 33:17]

So the two part ways again, Esav returning to Seir and Yaakov settling in Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת), where he builds a house and stalls for his livestock.[/efn_note]This is a different Sukkot from the Sukkot mentioned during Yetziyat Mitzrayim in Sefer Shemot; Ramban on Bereshit 33:17 suggests that it was not a town, but the name by which Yaakov’s long-term-yet-temporary dwelling was situated. We are also told Yaakov arrives safely in the city of Shechem (שְׁכֶם) in the land of Canaan, the endpoint of his journey from Padan-Aram (Harran), encamping before it, in the place called Sukkot.

Importantly, Yaakov purchased this parcel of land (חֶלְקַת הַשָּׂדֶה) from the relatives of Chamor (חֲמוֹר), the father of (the person of the name) Shechem (שְׁכֶם), for the price of 100 kesitas (קְשִׂיטָה).3 This makes Yaakov’s parcel of land in Shechem the second legal purchase of land by a patriarch in Eretz Yisrael (after Maarat ha-Machpela in Parashat Chayei Sarah)⁠—one of three such purchases that the Midrash calls incontrovertible, such that the nations of the world are not entitled to doubt Bnei Yisrael’s claim to the Land.4

Yaakov sets up an altar (mizbeach – מִזְבֵּחַ) on his parcel of land and calls it E-l-Elokei-Yisrael, “G-d the G-od of Yisrael” (אֵ-ל אֱלֹקי יִשְׂרָאֵל).

The Assault of Dinah

[Bereshit 34:1]

Shechem the son of the aforementioned Chamor, a Chivite (a type of Canaanite) from whom Yaakov purchased his parcel of land, rapes Yaakov’s daughter Dinah when she is out visiting friends. Shechem is taken with Dinah and wishes to marry her. Yaakov finds out while his sons are out tending to the flocks, and holds off on telling them. Chamor comes out to speak to Yaakov; in the meantime, Yaakov’s sons find out what happened, to their great distress. Chamor offers Yaakov any bride-price he will name, and tries to entice him to consent to the marriage of Shechem and Dinah by assuring him landholding in the area. Yaakov’s sons, sensing Chamor’s guile, respond with a a subterfuge of their own. They pretend to accept the proposal on the condition that Chamor circumcises all his men. Chamor and Shechem readily agree and undergo circumcision right away, wishing to seal the marriage as soon as possible.

On the third day after the circumcisions, while the men of Shechem are still in pain and recovering, Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, enter the city, swords in hand, and slay all the men. The other sons enter the city and plunder it, including livestock and other forms of wealth, women, and children.

Yaakov objects to these actions, saying to Shimon and Levi that they have left him in a precarious situation vis-a-vis the Canaanites (כְּנַעֲנִי) and Perizzites (פְּרִזִּי). But Shimon and Levi say that they could not allow their sister to be mistreated in that manner.

Back to Bet-El

[Bereshit 35:1]

Hashem tells Yaakov to return to Beit-E-l and build an altar there. Yaakov instructs his household to get rid of foreign gods in their midst (אֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר אֲשֶׁר בְּתֹכְכֶם), purify themselves (הִטַּהֲרוּ), and change their clothes, so they will be prepared for the building of the altar to “the G-d who answered me when I was in distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone” (לָאֵ-ל הָעֹנֶה אֹתִי בְּיוֹם צָרָתִי וַיְהִי עִמָּדִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הָלָכְתִּי).

The people hand over the foreign gods as well as their jewelry and Yaakov buries them beneath a terebinth (a type of tree – elah – אֵלָה) near the city of Shechem. A “terror of G-d” (חִתַּת אֱלֹקים) befalls the inhabitants of the area and they do not pursue Yaakov and his household.

Yaakov returns to Luz, a.k.a. Beit-E-l, and builds an altar there in recognition of Hashem’s protection when he was fleeing from his brother Esav, which he calls (the altar, not the brother) E-l-Bet-E-l.

We are told here that Rivka’s nurse, Devorah (דְּבֹרָה), dies and is buried under an oak tree (אַלּוֹן) near Beit-El, which is known as Alon Bachut, “the Oak of Weeping” (אַלּוֹן בָּכוּת).5

A Blessing

[Bereshit 35:9]

Hashem appears to Yaakov and gives him the following blessing:

שִׁמְךָ יַעֲקֹב לֹא יִקָּרֵא שִׁמְךָ עוֹד יַעֲקֹב כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל יִהְיֶה שְׁמֶךָ וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שְׁמוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל…אֲנִי אֵל שַׁדַּי פְּרֵה וּרְבֵה גּוֹי וּקְהַל גּוֹיִם יִהְיֶה מִמֶּךָּ וּמְלָכִים מֵחֲלָצֶיךָ יֵצֵאוּ: וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם וּלְיִצְחָק לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת הָאָרֶ:

“You whose name is Jacob,
You shall be called Jacob no more,
But Israel shall be your name…

I am El Shaddai.
Be fertile and increase;
A nation, indeed an assembly of nations,
Shall descend from you.
Kings shall issue from your loins.

The land that I assigned to Abraham and Isaac
I assign to you;
And to your offspring to come
Will I assign the land.

Bereshit 35:10-12

Hashem departs from before Yaakov and Yaakov builds and anoints a pillar on that spot where Hashem appeared to him. He again calls it Beit-E-l.6

Rachel Dies in Childbirth with Binyamin

[Bereshit 35:16]

The family sets out from Beit-E-l towards Efrat (אֶפְרָת), but before they arrive, Rachel, who is pregnant, begins her labor. She experiences a difficult labor and her midwife encourages her, saying “Have no fear, for it is another boy for you” (אַל תִּירְאִי כִּי גַם זֶה לָךְ בֵּן). Sadly, Rachel dies in childbirth, but not before she manages to name her son Ben-Oni (בֶּן אוֹנִי); but he is called Binyamin (Benjamin – בִנְיָמִין) by Yaakov. Rachel is buried on the road to Efrat, later known as Beit Lechem (Bethlehem – בֵּית לָחֶם). Yaakov erects a pillar to mark Rachel’s grave, which remains a notable marker.

Yaakov/Yisrael continues on his way, pitching his tent at Migdal Eder (מִגְדַּל עֵדֶר). While he is there, his son Reuven lays with Yaakov’s concubine Bilhah, which comes to the attention of Yaakov.7

Yaakov’s Twelve Sons

[Bereshit 35:22]

We are now given a review of the twelve sons of Yaakov:

  • “The sons of Leah: Reuben—Yaakov’s first-born—Shimon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zevulun.”
  • “The sons of Rachel: Yosef and Binyamin.”
  • “The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naftali.”
  • “And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher.”

The Death of Yitzchak

[Bereshit 35:27]

Yaakov now arrives at his father’s home in Mamre, which is at Kiryat Arba, later known as Chevron—places familiar to us, as the Torah notes, from the lives of Yitzchak and Avraham. The aged Yitzchak is now 180 years old. He dies and is gathered to his kin (וַיֵּאָסֶף אֶל עַמָּיו) “in a ripe old age” (זָקֵן וּשְׂבַע יָמִים). Both of his sons, Yaakov and Esav, bury him together.

The Lineage of Esav

[Bereshit 36:1]

We are now given the summative line of Esav, a signal, as with Yishmael, that we are parting from his storyline for the time being. We are told explicitly that Esav is Edom here, and given the following information:

  • Esav had three wives: two Canaanite, Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite (עָדָה בַּת אֵילוֹן הַחִתִּי), and Oholivama the daughter of Anah daughter of Tzivon the Chivite (אָהֳלִיבָמָה בַּת עֲנָה בַּת צִבְעוֹן הַחִוִּי); and one from his kin, Bashmat (בָּשְׂמַת) daughter of Yishmael and sister of Nevayot (נְבָיוֹת).
  • Adah’s son was Eliphaz (אֱלִיפָז).8
  • Bashmat’s son was Reuel. (רְעוּאֵל)
  • Oholivama’s sons were Yeush (יעיש [יְעוּשׁ]), Yaalam (יַעְלָם), and Korach (קֹרַח). (This Korach is not to be confused by the Korach who foments rebellion against Moshe in Sefer Bemidbar, who is of the house of Levi, as in Yaakov’s son, not Esav’s son.)

Esav establishes his family in Canaan, but then migrates away on account of Yaakov. He settles in the hill country of Seir, which is Edom. The following generations are given; each of Esav’s grandsons forms a clan:

  • The sons of Eliphaz were Teiman (תֵּימָן),9 Omar (אוֹמָר), Tzefo (צְפוֹ), Gaatam (גַעְתָּם), and Kenaz (קְנַז).
  • Elphaz also has a child with his concubine Timna, who gives birth to the infamous Amalek (עֲמָלֵק).
  • Reuel’s sons are Nachat (נַחַת), Zerach (זֶרַח), Shamma (שַׁמָּה), and Miza (מִזָּה).
  • We are not given further details about the sons of Yeush, Yaalam, or Korach (Esav’s grandsons by his wife Oholivama, only that each formed a clan.

We are also given the lineage of Seir the Chorite (שֵׂעִיר הַחֹרִי):

  • Lotan (לוֹטָן)
    • The sons of Lotan were Chori (חֹרִי) and Heimam (וְהֵימָם).
  • Timna (תִּמְנָע), Lotan’s sister.
  • Shoval (שׁוֹבָל).
    • The sons of Shoval were Alvan (עַלְוָן), Manachat (מָנַחַת), Eival (עֵיבָל), Shefo (שְׁפוֹ), and Onam (אוֹנָם).
  • Tzivon (צִבְעוֹן)
    • The sons of Tzivon were Aya (אַיָּה) and Ana (עֲנָה). (We are told in an aside that Ana discovered yemim, possibly springs, in the wilderness.)
      • The children of Ana were a son, Dishon (דִּשֹׁן), and a daughter, Oholivama (אָהֳלִיבָמָה).
  • Dishon ()10
    • The sons of Dishon were Hemdan (חֶמְדָּן), Eshban (אֶשְׁבָּן), Itran (יִתְרָן), and Kran (כְּרָן).
  • Etzer (אֵצֶר)
    • Etzer’s sons were Bilhan (בִּלְהָן), Zaavan (זַעֲוָן), and Akan (עֲקָן).
  • Dishan (דִישָׁן)
    • Dishan’s sons were Utz (עוּץ) and Aran (אֲרָן).

And the kings of Seir, notable in that kings arise among Esav’s descendants before there are kings in Israel (לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל):

  • Bela son of Beor (בֶּלַע בֶּן בְּעוֹר), whose capital is the city of Dinhava (דִּנְהָבָה).
  • Yovav son of Zerach (וֹבָב בֶּן זֶרַח), from Botzra (בָּצְרָה).
  • Chusham (חֻשָׁם) of the land of the Teimanites (מֵאֶרֶץ הַתֵּימָנִי).
  • Hadad son of Bedad (הֲדַד בֶּן בְּדַד), who defeated Midian (מִדְיָן) in the country of Moav (שְׂדֵה מוֹאָב), and whose capital was Avit (עֲוִית).
  • Samla (שַׂמְלָה) of Masreka (מַּשְׂרֵקָה).
  • Shaul (שָׁאוּל) of Rechovot-on-the-River (רְחֹבוֹת הַנָּהָר).
  • Baal-Chanan son of Achbor (בַּעַל חָנָן בֶּן עַכְבּוֹר).
  • Hadar (הֲדַר) whose capital was Pau (פָּעוּ), and his wife’s name was Meheitavel daughter of Matred daughter of Mei-Zahav (מְהֵיטַבְאֵל בַּת מַטְרֵד בַּת מֵי זָהָב).

In summary, we are given the clans (alufim) of Esav, “each with its families and locality, name by name”:

  • Aluf Timna (אַלּוּף תִּמְנָע)
  • Aluf Alva (אַלּוּף עַלְוָה)
  • Aluf Yetet (אַלּוּף יְתֵת)11
  • Aluf Oholivama (אַלּוּף אָהֳלִיבָמָה)
  • Aluf Ela (אַלּוּף אֵלָה)
  • Aluf Pinon (אַלּוּף פִּינֹן)12
  • Aluf Kenaz (אַלּוּף קְנַז)
  • Aluf Teiman (אַלּוּף תֵּימָן)
  • Aluf Mivzar (אַלּוּף מִבְצָר)13
  • Aluf Magdiel (אַלּוּף מַגְדִּיאֵל)
  • Aluf Iram (אַלּוּף עִירָם)

Haftarah Summary – חזון עובדיה

[Ovadia 1:1-21]

The full (and brief) prophecy of Ovadia is read as the haftarah for Parashat Vayishlach, since it deals extensively with the troubled relationships between Bnei Yisrael and the descendants of Esav and the eventual capitulation of Edom. Few details of Ovadia’s life are given in his book, but Sanhedrin 39b relates that he was the student of Eliyahu ha-Navi in the time of the evil king Achav (Ahab) and his idolatrous wife Izevel (Jezebel). In addition, it is said in the name of Rabbi Meir that Ovadia was himself an Edomite convert, making his prophecy all the more poignant.


Image: Marc Chagall, “The Tribe of Benjamin,” 1962. Stained glass window for the synagogue of the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Notes

  1. In Rambam’s Sefer ha-Mitzvot, it is Lo Taaseh 183; codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 65.
  2. See Rashi on Bereshit 33:4.
  3. This unit of measure, which only occurs in the context of this purchase, may be a coin or other form of money, or to a sheep/livestock animal used as a unit of trade See Bereshit Rabba 79:7, where these possibilities are discussed; Rosh Hashana 26a where the former possibility is raised; and for the latter possibility, Targum Onkelos to Bereshit 33:19, which uses the word חורפן, elsewhere clearly used in reference to sheep.
  4. See the aforementioned section of Bereshit Rabba 79:7.
  5. Rivka’s nurse is first mentioned in Bereshit 24:59, but her name, Devorah, is first given in Bereshit 35:8. Rashi on Bereshit 35:8 explains that Devorah is the trusted person whom Rivka sent to inform Yaakov that he could return home from his stay with Lavan, as Rivka promises to do in Bereshit 27:45. For more on Rashi’s source for this Midrash, see Rashi’s Citations of Moshe ha-Darshan.
  6. Ramban on Bereshit 35:15 explains that the repetition of this naming is to emphasize the eternality of the Shechina’s presence at this site.
  7. Rashi on Bereshit 35:22 explains that this was the result of confusion on Reuven’s part due to grief after Rachel’s death; Ibn Ezra on Bereshit 35:22 reads the “laying with” part non-literally, following Chazal (see Shabbat 55b).
  8. Both the names Eliphaz and Utz, below, from Esav’s lineage come up in Sefer Iyov (Job).
  9. This is the ordinary word for Yemen as well as the cardinal direction we call south.
  10. The taamei ha-mikra indicate a break (sof pasuk) between Lotan, Shoval, and Tzivon and Dishon (דִשׁוֹן), Etzer, and Dishan.
  11. There is a sof pasuk after Yetet.
  12. There is another sof pasuk after Pinon.
  13. There is another sof pasuk after Mivzar.

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