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Can We Be Empowered by Patriarchal Texts?
Dec 9, 2022 By Alison L. Joseph | Commentary | Vayishlah
I have long been bothered by the story of Dinah in Genesis 34. This narrative, often referred to as the “Rape of Dinah,” is difficult to read, not only because sexual violence against a young woman is employed as a plot device, but also because I’m not sure why the story is included in the Torah in the first place. My concern with the story is more acute when I read it within our liturgical calendar as just another episode in the Jacob cycle (Gen. 25–35).Read More
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!Read More
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.Read More
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).Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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
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.Read More
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.Read More
Living into the Mission of Our Lives
Dec 5, 2014 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayishlah
What are our greatest fears?Read More
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.
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.
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
Angels of Peace
Nov 27, 2012 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayishlah
This week’s parashah opens with the rising tension between Jacob and Esau.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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?Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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