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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT VAYISHLAH
December 17, 2005 - 16 Kislev 5766

Annual: Genesis 32:4-36:43 (Etz Hayim, p. 198; Hertz p. 122)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 34:1-35:15 (Etz Hayim, p. 206; Hertz p. 127)
Haftarah: Obadiah 1:1 - 21 (Etz Hayim, p. 222; Hertz p. 137)

Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director

Summary

Jacob sends messengers to his brother Esau, trying to reconcile after 20 years. He sends gifts, while preparing his camp in case Esau chooses to go to war. Commentators say that Jacob prepared in three ways - gifts, prayer, and if necessary, war. After helping his family cross the river Jabbok, Jacob is left alone by the stream. A man wrestles with him until sunrise, hurting Jacob's hip socket. Jacob asks for a blessing, and the man changes his name to Israel.

Jacob confronts his brother Esau, introducing his wives and children. They embrace and reconcile somewhat. But each brother then goes his own way. Jacob arrives in the city of Shechem, setting up an altar there.

Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, goes out to visit the daughters of the land. Schechem the Hivite takes her and lays with her by force. He asks his father Hamor to arrange his marriage to Dinah. Jacob waits until his sons come in from the fields. The sons tell Hamor that it would be improper for their sister to marry anybody who is not circumcised. Hamor agrees that all the men of his community will be circumcised, the two communities will trade with one another, and they will marry into each other's families. On the third day, as the Hivite men were recovering from the circumcision, Simeon and Levi take swords and slay all the Hivites, and the brothers plunder the town. When Jacob criticizes their actions, the brothers retort, "Shall our sister be treated like a whore?"

God tells Jacob to purify the camp and remove all foreign gods. Again God blesses Jacob and stresses his new name, Israel. Rachel goes into hard labor and dies giving birth to a twelfth son, Benjamin. She is buried on the road to Bethlehem.

The portion ends with a list of the 12 sons of Jacob. This is followed by a long list of the descendents of Esau.

Issue #1 - Wrestled With Whom?

"Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn." (Genesis 32:25)

Discussion

  1. With whom did Jacob wrestle? The Torah is vague. Let us give three possible answers.
  2. The Torah teaches that Jacob was left alone. So the most obvious answer is that Jacob wrestled with himself. Perhaps the wrestling was between his good and evil inclinations. The evil inclination had caused Jacob either to hide himself or to flee whenever he confronted a difficulty. He hid his true identity from his father; he fled from his brother; he later fled from his father-in-law. The good inclination said that it was time to stand up and confront difficulty rather than hiding or fleeing.
  3. Perhaps Jacob wrestled with an angel. According to the prophet Hosea, "In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and by his strength he strove with a godlike being. He strove with an angel and prevailed" (Hosea 12:3-4). There was a belief in spiritual beings, messengers from God who interact with humans.
  4. Perhaps Jacob actually wrestled with God. After all, the Torah teaches that Jacob's name was changed to Yisrael - "Israel" -- which means "wrestles with God." The entity who fought with Jacob said, "You have striven with God and man and prevailed." He refused to give his name, just as God does not give His holy name. Jacob named the place Peniel, which means "the face of God." "I have seen God face to face and prevailed" (Genesis 32:31).
  5. Which of those three responses seems most credible? Is the question "with whom did Jacob wrestle?" really important? Or is the important point that Jacob walked (or rather limped) away as a changed man? Do we as individuals have moments where we confront ourselves, our guardian angel, or perhaps God, and walk away changed?

Issue #2 - The Rape of Dinah

"Now Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land." (Genesis 34:1)

Discussion

  1. The story of Dinah is violent and tragic. Yet perhaps there are insights we can learn from this terrible story that would be helpful even today.
  2. Who is the villain of this story? At first glance it is Shechem, the son of Hamor, who took Dinah and lay with her by force. He is a rapist, who deserves a swift punishment. Yet Dinah's brothers mete out a punishment far beyond the crime. And the story also can be read differently; that Dinah went willingly to Shechem's tent and was not forced. (See Anita Diamant's novel The Red Tent, for a feminist interpretation of the story. In the novel, Dinah loved Shechem and never forgave her brothers for their vicious attack.)
  3. Some commentators actually blame Dinah. Rashi calls her a yotzanit, a girl who likes to go out. "Scripture calls her the daughter of Leah, not the daughter of Jacob. Because she went out, she is called the daughter of Leah. For she was also a woman who liked to go out, as scripture says, 'Leah went out to meet him.' (Gen. 30:16) With allusion to her they formulated the proverb, 'like mother like daughter.'" Is Leah to blame? Were the commentators concerned about Jewish girls who leave their homes and go out in public, perhaps acting immodesty? (Today we might call Dinah a "party girl.") Is that fair?
  4. A radical idea worthy of consideration - perhaps ultimately Jacob was to blame. "Now Dinah the daughter of Leah who was born to Jacob went out to visit the daughters of the land." (Genesis 34:1) Note that it says Dinah the daughter of Leah who was born to Jacob, rather than the more customary usage Dinah the daughter of Jacob. Dinah was raised by her mother. Jacobis merely identified as the sperm donor; he was not an ongoing presence in his daughter's life. Could it be that the story of Dinah is a story about fathering, particularly the fathering of a daughter? Fatherhood does take on a particular importance in the raising of daughters. A little girl learns to love a man by learning first to love her daddy. If he has been a constant presence in her life, as an adult she will be able to transfer that love to a man in a mature relationship. Without a daddy's presence, too many young women like Dinah seek male affection in premature, inappropriate relationships. Were her brothers attacking Jacob's treatment of Dinah when they exclaimed, "Should our daughter be treated like a whore?"

 
 
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