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Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

“Please accept my present, which has been brought to you, for God has favored me
and I have plenty. And when he urged him, he accepted.” (Genesis 33:11)

Parashat Vayishlach is a nail-biter. Jacob returns home to Canaan and encounters his brother Esau. Jacob is nervous, with good reason; he stole Esau’s blessing twenty years earlier. Who knows what anger Esau still harbors? When they meet and reconcile, Jacob offers Esau gifts and declares: “…To see your face is like seeing the face of God…” (Gen. 33:10) Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (1959-; Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University) points out this challenges most rabbinic commentators, who consider Esau the classic Biblical “bad boy.”

Saadia Gaon (882-942 CE; leader of the Babylonian Jewish community) has Jacob comparing Esau to the “face of society’s elite.” Ibn Ezra (1089-~1164; a great medieval Spanish scholar) decides Jacob really means an angel, not God. Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235; scholar and grammarian) expands on this interpretation, stating boldly Jacob mentions seeing an angel to intimidate Esau; if Esau thinks Jacob is accompanied by an angel, he won’t harm Jacob.

Artson points out Jacob relates to Esau as if to God in two ways. First, as Nachmanides (1194 – 1270; Spanish commentator) notes, Jacob offers Esau gifts, just as he has offers gifts to God. Second, by verbally likening Esau to God, Jacob is asserting even “bad boy” Esau is created in God’s image.

Read this way, Jacob is a role model who responds to another’s presence with complete body and spirit. If every individual is created in God’s image, we should approach every personal interaction with reverence. And if we contribute a sense of awe and affection to every personal interaction, like Jacob, we can feel we’ve encountered God each time.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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