Vayishlach (And he sent)

Vayishlach –  32:4 to 36:43: Joseph fears his meeting with Esau. He makes many decisions that reveal his true character and feelings about his brother and family. ———————–

Great men are defined by the choices they make in time of crisis…. In this week’s parsha Jacob is forced into making life shaping decision after decision. These decisions not only shape Jacob’s life, but the future of the Jewish people. In addition, these decisions also tell us a lot about the person who makes them. Let’s look at the decisions of Jacob….. and Jacob/Israel as made in this week’s parsha.

The text begins as Jacob is about to return home – and confront his brother after stealing his birthright 21 years ago.  “Jacob now sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, in the countryside of Edom….” (Genesis 32:4) Jacob is in fear of what will happen when he meets Esau. He can run in the other direction … or he can reunite with his brother. Jacob makes his first decision of the parsha. He will meet with Esau…. But, he learns Esau is approaching with 400 men. Decision 2, Jacob divides his group in two. Then, he sends messengers ahead to offer gifts and a message of peace. These moves provide safety for at least half of his family and recognize Esau as a very important person who deserves respect. This combination of decisions are ones that are seen as successful  strategies by diplomats throughout history.

Jacob sends his wives, children, servants, and belongings across the river that separates his group from Esau. Jacob finds himself alone and is approached by a man with whom he wrestles all night. The text never really tells us who the man is…. Commentators have thought that he may have been an angel sent by God, or maybe he was Esau or Esau’s angel. Yet others, say that Jacob actually wrestled with himself.

Jacob had a lot on his mind … How to approach his brother? … How will the birthright affect this meeting? …  Who is stronger?… Who will be the leader in the future? … Will he survive this meeting? … What will the future hold?

Jacob fought all night. His hip became injured. As dawn approached, Jacob still had a tight hold on his opponent. Jacob then said to the man, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man replied, “What is your name?”…Jacob answered, “Jacob”… The man replied, “No more shall you be called Jacob, but Israel … for you  struggled with God and human beings, and you have prevailed…” (Gen. 32:27 – 29) “Israel” is translated  in several ways. Plaut notes a few. The Hebrew word sarita (struggled) when connected to el (God) means struggled with God. ….. Plaut also suggests that the Israel may have been yasharel meaning “the one whom God makes straight,” as opposed to ya-akov-el – one whom God causes to limp. (Gunther Plaut, Torah, A Modern Commentary, footnote (29), p.22.)

“Jacob therefore named that place Pkeni’el – “For I have see God face-to-face, yet my life has been spared.” (Gen. 32:31) After a night of conflict, Jacob was ready to meet his brother. He proceeded with great humility … He approached with a limp as a result of the battle with the “man.” His greeted Esau in a very respectful manner. Jacob/Israel made the decision to change from a “cocky” trickster to a man of humility.

Esau offered to live side by side with his brother. And Jacob makes another decision … to go his own way and settle in Shechem, in the land of Canaan. He made camp facing the city. He bought the portion of the field where he set up his tent and the tents of the rest of his family. Then he set up an altar and called it El-Elohei-Yisrael – El, God of Israel. (Gen. 34:18-19) Jacob makes another decision…. How different our history would have been had the “House of Israel” been set up beside the house of Esau.?

In this new community of strangers, Leah’s daughter, Dinah journeyed into town where she is raped by the son of a local prince. Local practice of the time was to offer the victim’s family either a bride price … or an arranged marriage. Jacob agreed to the arranged marriage…. But, only after the groom and the rest of the town was circumcised. However, Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, felt that their sister had been shamed. As a punishment, while the men of the town were recovering from circumcision, they attacked and killed all the men of the town.

Jacob’s response to the actions of his sons …. “You have made trouble for me by making me odious to the land’s inhabitants – the Canaanites and the Perizzites. Since I am few in number, they will gather themselves against me and strike at me, and I  and my household will be destroyed.: But  they [the brothers] said, “Should he then have been allowed to treat our sister like a whore?” (Gen. 35:30-31)

Rather than fight, God tells Jacob to go to Beth El and settle there.

Decisions …. Were they the result of God’s direction, Jacob/Israel’s  mind-set, or a combination of both?

How do the decisions surrounding this rape/marriage compare to the decisions at the time of the meeting with Esau. Both sets of decisions have great effects upon the future … especially when the later blessings of Jacob are factored in. Do these decisions show the different sides of the same person?

These are the decisions Jacob/Israel made. How are the major decisions of your life made? Are they based on self-interests, or on a mixture of  your values, traditions, and faith? Or a combination?

Earl Sabes

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