Facing Our Fears

Facing Our Fears

Nov 19, 2021 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Vayishlah

Soon after leaving Aram, the home of Laban his father-in-law, along with his wives, children, and possessions, Jacob instructed messengers to go to his brother Esau in Edom and say: “Thus says your servant Jacob: With Laban I have sojourned and I tarried till now. And I have gotten oxen and donkeys and sheep and male and female slaves, and I send ahead to tell my lord, to find favor in your eyes” (Gen. 32:5–6). Upon returning, the messengers relate that Esau himself is coming to meet Jacob and bringing four hundred men! 

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Having It All

Having It All

Dec 4, 2020 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayishlah

After twenty years of estrangement, Jacob and Esau encounter one another yet again. Time has somewhat softened the bitterness and pain of the injustice done to Esau in Jacob’s theft of the blessing. And Esau has come to his senses, realizing that the murder of his brother will not right the wrong committed under the aegis of his scheming mother. Still, at the beginning of our parashah, Jacob is so uncertain and fearful of the encounter between him and his brother that he plans for the worst—dividing his family into two camps (lest one be destroyed, the other half will survive) and wrestling with the mysterious assailant (which portends his coming to terms with the misstep he committed so many years prior). Clearly, given what Jacob experienced in Laban’s home, the blessing received from Isaac has yet to come to fruition.

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Wrestling for Blessing

Wrestling for Blessing

Dec 13, 2019 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Vayishlah

On the eve of his dreaded reunion with Esau, Jacob remained alone in the dark, and “a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” The mysterious assailant injured Jacob, dislocating his thigh, but Jacob refused to let go, so the man pleaded with him, saying: “Let me go, for dawn is breaking!” Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The assailant asked for Jacob’s name, and conferred a new one, Israel, “for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:25-29).

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Wrestling the Angels and the Demons within Us

Wrestling the Angels and the Demons within Us

Dec 1, 2017 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Vayishlah

In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlah, we read of the patriarch Jacob’s journey home with his family after freeing himself and his entire clan from his father-in-law, Laban’s, control. Along the route, Jacob prepares himself for his eventual reunion with his older twin brother Esau, whom he fears to be vengeful. Right in the middle of the parashah, in between the description of Jacob’s preparations and his actual meeting with Esau, Jacob is involved in a transformative experience: a physical struggle with a stranger.

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Wholly Jacob

Wholly Jacob

Dec 16, 2016 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Vayishlah

Among the thrills in superhero movies is seeing the good guy take a pummeling and then stand unscathed in the next scene, ready again for battle. “Nobody else could survive that punishment,” we gush. The indestructible superhero comes to mind while reading of Jacob’s return to Canaan after living under Laban’s thumb, then wrestling with a mysterious man, then encountering Esau—a man who’s had twenty years to stew in a fratricidal rage.

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Words of Peace?

Words of Peace?

Dec 16, 2016 By Avi Garelick | Commentary | Vayishlah

Words of peace,
But no treaty,
Are a sign
Of a plot.

—Sun-Tzu, The Art of War

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Homecoming

Homecoming

Nov 24, 2015 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Vayishlah

In Parashat Vayishlah, Jacob returns to the Land of Canaan after a long absence and finds trouble rather than the comforts of home. He prepares to meet his estranged and potentially violent brother.

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Face to Face

Face to Face

Nov 24, 2015 By Anne Lapidus Lerner | Commentary | Vayishlah

The tortured relationship between the twin brothers Esau and Jacob has been a significant element in the two previous parshiyot—Toledot and Vayetze. It is resolved in this week’s parashah, Vayishlah. Although there is no peace treaty, the resolution is deeply desired by both brothers and reflected both in the undoing of the language that started the problem and in the brothers’ truly seeing and acknowledging each other.

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Living into the Mission of Our Lives

Living into the Mission of Our Lives

Dec 5, 2014 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayishlah

What are our greatest fears?

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Leah’s Song

Leah’s Song

Dec 5, 2014 By Yonatan Dahlen | Commentary | Vayishlah

When you fell in love
Under a copper sky,
I saw you with her.
Sweat on your gentle lip,
You were weeping
Like the wadi in the rainy season.
And in my dreams,
I caught your tears.
Each one
Before it could hit the dust at your sandals.
If only I could be your tear catcher.
I would swallow every star
If you told me
Your tears come from Heaven.

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Jacob’s Fear

Jacob’s Fear

Nov 13, 2013 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayishlah

The Torah wants us to identify with the ancestors we meet in the book of Genesis; indeed, Abraham and Sarah and their children become our ancestors when we agree not only to read their stories, but to take them forward. Abraham “begat” Isaac in one sense by supplying the seed for his conception. He “begat” him as well by shaping the life that Isaac would live, setting its direction, digging wells that his son would re-dig, making Isaac’s story infinitely more meaningful—and terrifying—by placing him in the line of partners with God in covenant. So it is with us.

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Seeing the Image of God

Seeing the Image of God

Nov 12, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayishlah

After a 20-year absence from home and family back in the Land of Israel, Jacob journeys home. And like any of us en route to the home of our family of origin, anxiety and uncertainty (along with anticipation and joy) play core roles in the experience.

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Assumptions and Appearances

Assumptions and Appearances

Nov 28, 2012 By Nancy Abramson | Commentary | Vayishlah

Things are not always as they appear to be. And when assumptions are based on circumstantial or incomplete evidence, we are often surprised or disappointed by what unfolds.

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Angels of Peace

Angels of Peace

Nov 27, 2012 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayishlah

This week’s parashah opens with the rising tension between Jacob and Esau.

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I Stayed with Laban

I Stayed with Laban

Dec 10, 2011 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Vayishlah

The opening verses of this week’s parashah recount Jacob’s decision, upon returning home after 20 years of “living abroad,” to get in touch with his brother, Esau. You may remember that they—ahem!—had not parted on the best of terms (see Gen. 25:27-34 and especially Gen. 27:1-41 for the gritty details). At the beginning of the parashah, it is not yet clear to what extent Jacob is motivated by fear, by friendliness, by craftiness—or by some combination of these and potentially other concerns.

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A Painful Embrace

A Painful Embrace

Dec 10, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Vayishlah

Rarely do I find a midrash like the one above that reflects love and hate, admiration and anger, in a single passage about how Jews relate to Christians. While the two rabbis quoted here agree that a peculiar scribal feature is crucial to understanding Jacob and Esau’s reunion, they fundamentally disagree about what that detail signifies.

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Who We Are and Where We’re Going

Who We Are and Where We’re Going

Nov 20, 2010 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Vayishlah

Can we ever break free from the troubled darkness of our past?

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Speaking for the Silenced

Speaking for the Silenced

Nov 20, 2010 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Vayishlah

Commonly found in coroner’s offices across North America is the following motto: “We speak for the dead to protect the living.” Ancient and modern biblical commentators have taken a similar stance toward the rape of Dinah and its aftermath. A close examination of Genesis 34 and contemporary responses to its narrative will show how one of the Torah’s most troubling passages can inspire us to take action. We must, in the words of Proverbs 31:8, “speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” We must address similar injustices in today’s society in order to protect the living.

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Personal Transformation

Personal Transformation

Nov 20, 2010 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Vayishlah

A close examination of Genesis 34 and contemporary responses to its narrative will show how one of the Torah’s most troubling passages can inspire us to take action. We must, in the words of Proverbs 31:8, “speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” We must address similar injustices in today’s society in order to protect the living.

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Multiple Beginnings

Multiple Beginnings

Dec 5, 2009 By David Marcus | Commentary | Vayishlah

Attentive readers may note that our Parashat Va-yishlah does not start at the beginning of its chapter (Genesis 32), rather it starts four verses down with the words “va-yishlah Yaakov malachim lefanav” (Now Jacob sent messengers ahead of him). The actual chapter starts with the words “vayashkem Lavan babboqer” (Early in the morning Laban arose) (see the enumeration in Etz Hayim), and some printed Hebrew editions, such as the Koren Tanakh before 1992, and English Bibles, such as the King James Version and the New Revised Standard Translation, start the chapter with the next verse, “veYaakov halach ledarko” (Now Jacob went on his way). From these three beginnings we see that there are various ways of starting the story of Jacob’s meeting with Esau, the story with which our parashah commences.

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