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! 

Read More
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.

Read More
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).

Read More
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.

Read More
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

Read More
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.

Read More
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?

Read More
An Infinity of Interpretation

An Infinity of Interpretation

Nov 27, 1993 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayishlah

There are ten passages in the Torah where dots appear above the letters of one or more words. The technique derives from the rabbis, who borrowed it from the early grammarians in Alexandria, and is intended to arrest the reader’s attention. In this week’s parasha, we meet an especially interesting example.

Read More
Legislating Intimacy

Legislating Intimacy

Dec 1, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayishlah

Judaism is not an ascetic religion. It makes no virtue of mortifying the flesh. At the end of Shabbat, a day devoted to the renewal of body and soul, we ask God not only to forgive our sins, but also to increase the number of our children and our financial assets.

Read More
The History of Jewish Foreign Affairs

The History of Jewish Foreign Affairs

Nov 19, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayishlah

The meeting of Jacob and Esau after a separation of twenty years is preceded by a slow and suspenseful build-up. The Torah’s exquisite narrative skill does not allow the story to rush headlong to its climax. For our part, we would much prefer to hurry through Jacob’s extensive preparations, at least till we reach his night-long bout with an unknown adversary, which ends in the bestowal of a new name on Jacob: “Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed (Genesis 32:29).”

Read More