There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion Vayishlach, aliyah by aliyah.
Vayishlach Genesis 32:4-36:43
Aliyah 1 – Genesis 32:4-13
Genesis 32:4 Ya‘akov sent messengers ahead of him to ‘Esav his brother toward the land of Se‘ir, the country of Edom,
Esau already had his own country? That’s surprising. The simple, pashat, reading of the text says that Jacob was away for 20 years at this point and we know Esau already had two wives before Jacob was married. I guess he could have taken over Se’ir in those years and somewhere in there he had his own set of 12 sons. Also, it is important to consider that Esau did receive a blessing from Isaac as well. While Jacob was toiling to build up a family, Esau was also blessed by G-d.
Genesis 32:5 with these instructions: “Here is what you are to say to my Lord ‘Esav: ‘Your servant Ya‘akov says, “I have been living with Lavan and have stayed until now.
I still find it odd that the Middle Eastern custom was to call people Lord when HaShem is Lord of all, but there have been Lords and Ladies and I believe Mister and Misses are developed from similar words and originally conveyed the same meaning. That being said, I do like the idea that each family has a hierarchy and that the mother and father are the king and queen of their little dominion.
Genesis 32:6 “I have cattle, donkeys and flocks, and male and female servants. I am sending to tell this news to my lord, in order to win your favor.”
I would think this might come off as gloating and irritate Esau instead of soothe him. Jacob stole the birthright and blessing and now he is successful. How does reminding Esau of that help? Maybe it is a type of Middle Eastern “peace through strength” approach, as if Jacob were saying, look what I did with the blessing and birthright, proving that he has rightful claim to them because of how he has been blessed.
Genesis 32:7 The messengers returned to Ya‘akov saying, “We went to your brother ‘Esav, and he is coming to meet you; with him are four hundred men.”
Just like grandpa! Abraham travelled with at least 318 men who were fit for war. I’m sure Jacob knew the story of the great battle Abraham was part of. This is a reminder that travelling with that large group doesn’t mean that Esau has evil intention, but it does say something about his strength.
Genesis 32: 8 Ya‘akov became greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people, flocks, cattle and camels with him into two camps, 9 saying, “If ‘Esav comes to the one camp and attacks it, at least the camp that is left will escape.”
This seems like a good strategy, but it is a tough call. Does it mean that Jacob lacked faith or was he simply being wise with what fell to him?
Genesis 32: 10 Then Ya‘akov said, “G-d of my father Avraham and G-d of my father Yitz’chak, HaShem, who told me, ‘Return to your country and your kinsmen, and I will do you good’:
It almost feels like Jacob is reminding HaShem how he got into this pickle
Genesis 32:11 I’m not worthy of all the love and faithfulness you have shown your servant, since I crossed the Yarden with only my staff. But now I have become two camps.
The humility here is noteworthy, he shows gratitude for his blessings
Genesis 32:12 Please! Rescue me from my brother ‘Esav! I’m afraid of him, afraid he’ll come and attack me, without regard for mothers or children.
Then again, Jacob truly seems to elevate his family above himself. He asks to be rescued from danger but goes on to expresses concern that the women and children be kept safe from harm
Genesis 32:13 You said, ‘I will certainly do you good and make your descendants as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea, which are so many they can’t be counted.’”
It is interesting that Jacob really doesn’t ask for anything, he simply states the trouble and reminds HaShem of His promises. No pleading or begging, just a short simple prayer.
Aliyah 2 – Genesis 32:14-30
Genesis 32:23 He got up that night, took his two wives, his two slave-girls, and his eleven children, and forded the Yabok.
His eleven children? What happened to the twelfth? Dinah was born already, including her, Jacob has thirteen children. Benjamin makes thirteen, but he us born later.. Is the verse only referring to the sons? If so, why?
Aliyah 3 – Genesis 32:31-33:5
Genesis 33:3 Then he himself passed on ahead of them and prostrated himself on the ground seven times before approaching his brother.
With the droves going before him and the wives and family being arranged as they were, it always felt to me like he also used his family as a buffer, but clearly Jacob went ahead and out his life in peril by going before them and approaching Esau himself. Watta a Mensch!
Aliyah 4 – Genesis 33:6-20
Genesis 33:6 Then the slave-girls approached with their children, and they prostrated themselves; 7 Le’ah too and her children approached and prostrated themselves; and last came Yosef and Rachel; and they prostrated themselves.
Why does the Torah place Yosef before Rachel in contrast to the other women being placed before their children? Isn’t that odd?
Aliyah 5 – Genesis 34:1-35:13
Genesis 33:10 G-d said to him, “Your name is Ya‘akov, but you will be called Ya‘akov no longer; your name will be Isra’el.” Thus he named him Isra’el.
Why is Jacob being renamed again? Is this an affirmation after Shechem?
Aliyah 6 – Genesis 35:14-36:19
Genesis 33:29 Then he breathed his last, died and was gathered to his people, an old man full of years; and his sons ‘Esav and Ya‘akov buried him.
Full of years is an interesting and beautiful expression. I also love that the brothers came together to bury their father, just like how Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham.
Aliyah 7 – Genesis 36:20-43
Genesis 33:24 The sons of Tziv‘on were Ayah and ‘Anah. This is the ‘Anah who found the hot springs in the desert while pasturing his father Tziv‘on’s donkeys.
Are ‘Anah’s hot springs still active? Is that something people visit today? That seems like an odd detail to include, but it must have been known at the time.
That concludes my journey through Vayishlach for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.