November 27-28, 2015 – 16 Kislev 5776
Annual (Genesis 32:4-36:43): Etz Hayim p. 198; Hertz p. 122
Triennial (Genesis 35:16-36:43): Etz Hayim p. 214; Hertz p. 130
Haftarah (Obadiah 1:1-21): Etz Hayim, p. 222; Hertz p. 137

שְׁמַע אֵלַי יַעֲקֹב, וְיִשְׂרָאֵל מְקֹרָאִי

Listen to Me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called
(Isaiah 48:12)

By Nathan Roller, Student at CY and  the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

In parshat Vayishlah Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, not once but twice. The first time, in 32:29, Jacob is named by a “man” after spending all night wrestling with him. In 35:10 Jacob receives the name Israel directly from God. According to Rashi, the name change signifies a change in Jacob’s character. He moves from “Ya’akov,” (יעקב) whose root means ankle and recalls his cunning (עָקְבָה) in tricking his brother, to Yisrael (ישראל), which contains the word (שר) “sar,” meaning leader. Yet despite being renamed twice, Israel continues to be called Jacob. In fact, after both incidences, he is immediately called Jacob again. So what was the point of the name change?

This is not a problem for Ibn Ezra. He reads Genesis 35:10 לֹא-יִקָּרֵא שִׁמְךָ עוֹד יַעֲקֹב not as “Your name will no longer be called Jacob” but rather as “Your name will no longer be only called Jacob.” עוֹד is being read here inclusively. However Ibn Ezra’s explanation does not work for Abraham’s name change in Genesis 17:5. There God says, וְלֹא-יִקָּרֵא עוֹד אֶת-שִׁמְךָ, אַבְרָם “and your name will no longer be called Avram.” Here the word עוֹד is read as excluding the previous name. In fact, R. Eliezer uses this verse to state that anyone who calls Abraham “Abram” has violated a negative commandment (Brachot 13a).

So what is the difference between Abram becoming Abraham and Jacob becoming Israel? It seems to me that the journeys of these two patriarchs are fundamentally different. Abraham’s journey is a clear break with his past. He is called to leave everything he has known and go to an unknown place which God will show him. Jacob’s journey, on the other hand, is a journey of returning. Even when he flees his brother Esau, he is running away to his mother’s (and his paternal grandfather’s) homeland. Years later, when Jacob leaves Laban’s home after having acquired wives, children and wealth, he returns back home to Canaan. Abraham’s journey is a linear one and his name change reflects that. He has moved to a new place and he receives a new name. Jacob’s journey is more circular. His return is an illustration of both continuity and change in his life story. His names also reflect this—his new identity of Israel is not a negation of who he once was.

Like our forefather, we are known as Jacob as well as Israel. We can take Jacob/Israel as a paradigm. Unlike Abraham, whose change is a complete break with his past, we can allow ourselves to change throughout our journeys but realize that this need not be a negation of who we were in our past. It is in this dual state as both Jacob and Israel that we can truly receive Balaam’s blessing (Numbers 24:5) “How good are your tents oh Jacob, your dwellings oh Israel!” It is in this dual state that we can respond to the call of God in Isaiah 48:12 “Hearken unto Me, O Jacob, And Israel My called: I am He; I am the first, I also am the last.”

A Vort for Parshat Vayishlah

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

For his meeting with his brother Esau, after 22 years, Jacob prepares a large gift. Esau responds (33:9): “I have much (rav), my brother; keep yours.” Jacob urges Esau to accept it anyway (33:11): “Take what I offer; God has favored me and I have everything (kol).” The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Efraim Luntschitz, Poland, 16th) and the Hafetz Hayim (Israel Meir HaKohen, Kagan, 1839-1933) both note that one who has much, generally wants more. Whereas, one who has everything is satisfied. He is ha’sameah b’helklo, is content with his portion, truly “wealthy” as defined in Pirkei Avot (4:1).

Table Talk

By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Jacob’s return home is shadowed by his fear of his brother, the rape of his daughter, and the death of his beloved Rachel.

1) Upon approaching his homeland Jacob decides to find out about (and deal with) his brother Esau. His first messengers come back reporting that Esau is heading towards them accompanied by 400 men. How does Jacob understand the news and what seems to be his coping strategy? (32:4-21)

2) Esau seems friendly when he finally meets Jacob, offering to escort Jacob and his camp as they move forward. But Jacob declines, claiming to move too slowly. Why do you think that Jacob might not have wanted to travel with Esau, nor accept some of his men as an escort? (33:8-17)

3) Chapter 34 tells the story of rape of Dina by Shekhem. Jacob hears about what happened but remains silent until his sons return home. Simeon and Levy (Dina’s brothers) take revenge by killing the local men. Now Jacob speaks. What is he upset about? (34:30.) What do Simeon and Levy answer? In ‘Toldot’ we discussed the difference of a moral vs. technical argument. How would you define each of their arguments? Which is stronger? Why?

4) Rachel, the mother of Joseph and the favorite wife of Jacob, dies in childbirth while they are on their way south. What name does each parent give the child that is born in this birth? What do the names mean? Which name is never used? Where is Rachel buried? (35:16-20)

5) The last chapter gives the lineage of Esau – Edom. Some of the people listed will come back later in history. For example: check out 36:12. How does this knowledge of the origins of Amalek affect your understanding of that nation’s later confrontations with Israel?

PDF Vayishlah 5776