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

“God said to him, “You whose name is Jacob, you shall
be called Jacob no more, but Israel shall be your name.” (Genesis 35:10)

Parashat Vayishlach is pretty suspenseful: Jacob is set to meet his brother Esau after twenty years. He’s worried Esau still wants to kill him for stealing his blessing, so he prepares a procession of lavish gifts to offer Esau. He also shows Esau great deference: Jacob bows to the ground seven times (Gen. 33:3) and has everyone in his entourage do the same (Gen. 33: 6, 7). He calls Esau adoni, my lord, five times and refers to himself as Esau’s eved, or slave, twice.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948- ; former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth) points out this behavior is surprising, giving the events of the preceding night. Then, Jacob wins his all-night wrestling match and forces an angel of God to bless him. Jacob should enter his meeting with Esau with confidence, not with worry. Jacob’s words provide the key to understanding his actions toward Esau.

When Jacob asks Esau to accept his gifts (Gen. 33:10, 11), he uses the word birchati, my blessing, triggering the memory of his stealing Esau’s blessing, which comprised wealth and power, twenty years earlier (Gen. 27: 28,29). Jacob finishes by saying, ”God has favored me and I have everything.” Now Jacob references another blessing, the covenantal blessing of land and children, that Isaac gave him openly (Gen. 28:34).

This is why the Torah records, at the end of the two brothers’ reconciliation, “Jacob arrived shalem, complete / whole / at peace to the city of Sh’chem.” (Gen. 33:18) Jacob finally is done wanting to be like Esau. Now his struggle is to be himself.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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