Parashat Vayishlah
December 16-17, 2016 – 17 Kislev 5777
Annual (Genesis 32:4-36:43): Etz Hayim p. 198-220; Hertz p. 122-134
Triennial (Genesis 32:4-33:20): Etz Hayim p. 198-206; Hertz p. 122-127
Haftarah (Obadiah 1:1-21): Etz Hayim p. 221-225; Hertz p. 137-140


For want of a few small jars…
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty and Coordinator, Torah Sparks

Preparing to meet his brother Esau, from whose wrath he had fled decades earlier, Yakov moves his family and property across the Yabok River.  “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak” (Gen 32:25).  “He was left alone,” Rashi explains: “he went back for some small jars [pachim katanim] he had forgotten.”  The Talmud (Hulin 91a) which Rashi quotes adds that from this we learn that for tsadikim, righteous people like Yakov, their money is dearer than their bodies, as Yakov’s action had put his life in danger.  The Talmud continues, lest we think that tsadikim are “driven” by a lust for material things, that their concern stems from their careful way of life – every penny is hard and honestly earned, no monkey-business, and of course, nothing that smells of theft (gezel).

So it turns out that the most important encounter with God in Yakov’s life – from which he leaves transformed (with a new name [Yisrael], the blessing for prevailing in struggles with God and man, and a muscle sprain) – happens when (because?) he went back to retrieve a few small jars.  Odd?  Just coincidence?

Fast-forward to Exodus 3:1, where Moses, following in Jacob’s footsteps, is shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep, “and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness (achar ha’midbar) and came to Horeb, the mountain of God,” where, in the very next verse, Moses sees the burning bush, his most important encounter with God.  “To the far side of the wilderness” seems a superfluous detail here, or is it?  Rashi, quoting the Midrash, says Moshe purposely led them there, “to keep far from theft (gezel) were they to graze in other people’s fields.”  Moses, like Yakov, seems to have a particular sensitivity (compulsion?) to avoid even a whiff of financial impropriety.  Both were evidently talmidav shel Abraham, disciples of our earliest forefather, who sent his servant off to seek a wife for Isaac with ten camels, “muzzled lest they commit gezel, theft, enroute” according to Rashi (Gen 24:10).

We can only speculate – would Jacob have encountered the mysterious figure with whom he wrestled had he not gone back for those jars?  Would Moses have ever seen the burning bush had he not taken his sheep to graze in the most remote wilderness?  There is a message here for leaders in all generations and at all levels of governance and organization.

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost…and so, in turn, were lost a horse, a knight, a battle and the kingdom, according to the proverb; just insert “pachim katanim” for “a nail.”  Rashi however, as indicated, omitted the Talmudic addition about the lesson of theft to be learned here.  Maybe those small jars had their own meaning for Yakov; they might have represented something of importance from his past.  Our lives are composed of big objects and small jars.  As the people left homeless by the recent fires in Israel attested, sometimes the latter are the more important – furniture and appliances can be replaced, but not childhood albums, mementos from family occasions, grandma’s candlesticks or an old wine-stained Haggadah.  We all have pachim katanim in our closets and in our souls.  The Baal Shem Tov said that we should go back for them from time to time.  The story of Hanukkah coming up soon teaches that even one little jar may contain the oil needed to light the darkness of our lives.

A Vort for Parashat Vayishlah
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Jacob and Esau finally meet (Gen 33:4), “Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, fell on his neck, and kissed him [vay’yishakeihu]; and they wept.”   Regarding the dots over the letters of “vay’yishakeihu” in the Torah one Midrash says the word should be read “bit” (from nashach, bite, a pun on the root nashak, kiss), on which the Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Arieh Alter, Poland, 19th-20th Cent.) comments that what Esau offers as a “kiss” can be a “bite” to Jacob.  Noting that both brothers wept, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, (“the Netziv,” of Volozhin, Lithuania 19thC) said that Jacob suddenly felt love for Esau, and that it is possible that both sides, through the generations, will recognize each other “as brothers.” Halevai…

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Yaakov (Jacob) is returning to his father’s land, dreading the meeting with his brother Esau. As part of his journey he returns to Beth El, and receives a new name. Benjamin, the youngest of Yaakov’s sons, is born in this Parasha.

1) As Yaakov approaches the land of his father he sends messengers to Esau (32:4-6). Pay attention to the titles used: How does Yaakov think of Esau? What does Yaakov call himself and what does he call Esau in the message delivered by the messengers? Why?

2) Yaakov fears his brother Esau (32:8-16). What is he afraid might happen? How does he try to prepare for this meeting? Note that he approaches the issue in several different ways. Which do you think might be best? Why?

3)  After taking his family and all his belongings across the Jabok crossing, Yaakov is left alone (32:23-30). A man struggles with him until the dawn rises. What is the significance of the time of this struggle? What 2 changes occur in Yaakov following this encounter?

4) Yaakov’s journey comes full circle in 35:1-7. Compare Yaakov’s state now to his situation in the beginning of last week’s Parasha (28:10-22). What might Yaakov be feeling at this point?

5) The story of Yaakov becoming Yisrael (Israel) appears twice in our parasha. In 35:9-15 the name change is accompanied by a promise. What is Yaakov promised by God? Can you remember another person who got a similar promise together with a name change (17:3-8 might help). What is the relationship between Yaakov and this person?