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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Bereshit - Vayishlach 101
Posted December, 2000

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Parashat Vayishlach can be found beginning at Bereshit Perek Lamed-Bet, pasuk daled (Genesis Chapter 32, verse 4) through and including all of Perek Lamed- Vav (Chapter 36).  There are some beautiful insights contained in this Parashah that warrant sharing. 

This Parashah begins at the point that Yaakov (Jacob) has left his Uncle Lavan and is about to meet his brother Esav.  He has sent messengers (sometimes translated as angels) to provide greetings and assess the situation.  Since it appears that Esav intends to cause Yaakov harm, Yaakov divides his camp into two and also designates gifts to be given to his brother to assuage any hostility.  We pick up with: 

23. But he [Yaakov] got up that night and took his two wives, his two handmaids, and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok:

24. And when he took them and had them cross over the stream, he sent over all his possessions:

25. Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn:

26. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Jacob's hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him:

27. Then he said, "Let me go, for dawn has broken." And he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me.":

28. He said to him, "What is your name?" He replied, "Jacob.":

29. He said, "No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.":

30. Then Jacob inquired, and he said, "Divulge, if you please, your name." And he said, "Why then do you inquire of my name?" And he blessed him there:

31. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel -- "For I have seen the Divine face to face, yet my life was spared.":

32. The sun rose for him as he passed Penuel and he was limping on his hip:

33. Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the displaced sinew on the hip-socket to this day, because he struck Jacob's hip-socket on the displaced sinew:

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's commentary at pasuk chav-hay (verse 25) is as follows: 

As he [Yaakov] had already passed all his people and all his possessions to the other side of the stream, his being left alone can only be explained by, as the sages teach, that after he had brought everything across, he returned to look round and see that no small things had been forgotten.  And to this they attached the significant saying 

that the righteous ones see even in the smallest value of honestly acquired fortune, something holy, which they may neither squander nor allow to be uselessly wasted, and for the rightful use of which they will be called to account.  A million has for them, only the value of a pin, if it is a question of spending it for God-pleasing purposes, and a pin has the value of a million if it is a question of wasting it uselessly.  The smallest possession that he has, who does not take anything by force, but only calls his own what he has acquired by his honest toil, is considered by him as a token of God's Providence and Goodness, his very smallest possession, and produce of honest sweat and God's Blessing and hence invaluable worth.  (Chulin 91a)

It seems that there are so many valuable lessons contained in this paragraph from Mesechta Chulin (Talmudic Tractate Chulin).  These words speak of understanding that all things, no matter of the least little value, come from Hashem and should be treated with that kind of respect.  Furthermore, the commentary explains that this respect is especially due to those things acquired through honest labor - perhaps only upon those things acquired in this manner.  And finally, that all these things, even the very smallest possessions, have an inherent blessing from God and thus infinite value. 

I am reminded of a beautiful, if very difficult, saying that we can incorporate into our lives from the great rabbi Nachum Ish Gamzo.  From him comes the phrase, "Gam zo l'tovah."  This too is for the good.  When life throws us challenges and difficulties, when things don't go the way we want, many times after the situations have worked themselves out to completion, we see that good has resulted.  When, in our short-sightedness, we have difficulty seeing something positive, keeping this phrase in mind can sometimes help. 

Moving on to pasuk chav-tet (verse 29), we come to some very interesting ideas concerning Yaakov's name change to Yisrael.  Rav Hirsch says the following: 

Thy name shall no longer have the meaning, be explained as "the one who is destined to hold on to the heel."  Not, it shall no longer be called (he only received the name Yisrael later on, from God - Perek Lamed-Hay [35]), but the name Yaakov itself shall be understood as Yisrael.  Yisrael means, literally, God is the All-conquering One.  Who is superior to everything else in Power and Greatness, and here the angel declares that that in truth is to be what the meaning of the condition which is expressed by Yaakov.  Only when a Yaakov, one who, to all outward appearances is under the heel of all others, obtains the victory over the most vicious attacks of enemies fully equipped with all material means, does this victory show the existence of a spiritual power which outweighs all material might and power.  It shows the existence of an Almighty God, Who reveals Himself just in the victorious endurance of this outwardly weak opponent, so that Yaakov is just therein to be regarded and understood as Yisrael. 

To eliminate any potential confusion on this point, the "vicious opponent" being referenced in this paragraph is Esav.  With Yaakov's sense and generosity, he defeated his brother's attack before it took place. 

All of this ties into the previous commentary.  Previously, we considered that all material blessings are from God.  Now we recognize that all spiritual blessings also emanate from Him as well.

There are considerably more commentaries on these few psukim that are worth a read if you have the time.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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