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

“I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and truth You have done Your servant: for with my staff
I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps.” (Genesis 32:11)

Parashat Vahishlach presents a series of confrontations: Jacob’s nighttime wrestling match with the mysterious stranger (Gen. 32:25-30), Jacob’s reunion with his brother Esau after twenty years (Gen. 33:1-15), and Jacob’s chastisement of his sons Simon and Levi and Shimon for their slaughter of the city of Shechem (after the rape of Dina; Gen. 34:30-31). Individually, each episode forces a comparison between the different (and opposite) personalities involved. Collectively, they foreshadow two powerful statements about diversity.

In Vayishlach, God commands Jacob: “…I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply; goy uk’hal goyim y’hiyeh mimeka, a nation and congregation of nations shall descend from you …” (Gen. 35:11) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) interprets “a nation” to refer to the differences between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world. “A congregation of nations,” however, refers to the differences within the Jewish people, who maintain a single faith, but comprise a multiplicity of ethnicities, races, vocations, and personalities. God blesses the Children of Israel with diversity.

But the blessing of diversity is also bestowed upon the individual. God renames Jacob by saying, “Your name is Jacob. But it shall not always be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” (Gen. 35:10) This reflects Jacob’s newfound spiritual status. But Jacob doesn’t disappear and the Torah refers sometimes to Jacob and sometimes to Israel (unlike with Abraham, who once renamed, always is called Abraham). This reflects the diversity—and complexity– of individual identity. Jacob/Israel is a reminder: the inconsistency of human personality is not a shortcoming, it is a blessing.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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