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Parashat Vayishlach - 5775

My friends,

In this Parasha we learn of Jacob's return to Canaan after an absence of twenty years. There are fascinating incidents and encounters in this Parasha.

During those twenty years in Haran, Jacob married Leah and Rachel, and their two servants Bilhah and Zilpah. He fathered eleven sons and one daughter. He is very wealthy with herds of cattle and sheep and many servants. His biggest worry now is how to face his brother Esau. They hadn't spoken nor seen each other for twenty years. He is wondering, "Is my brother still angry with me? Has he forgiven me after all these years?" He sends messengers to Esau to announce that his brother Jacob is coming home. The messengers return and inform him that Esau is heading towards him, accompanied by four hundred men. This reinforces his fears that Esau had not forgotten, and maybe he intends on harming him.

Jacob does three things:

  1. He turns to G-d in prayer and asks for G-d's protection.
  2. He also divides his camp into two; in case one group gets massacred, the other one would survive as he will have to fight.
  3. He prepares three huge herds consisting of hundreds of goats, rams, camels, cows, and donkeys and gives them to his servants to give to his brother Esau as presents from Jacob, hoping that Esau would be appeased because of all these expensive gifts.

That evening he helped his wives and children cross the stream of Jabbok. He was left all alone when a mysterious being attacked him and wrestled with him the entire night. When this being saw that he could not prevail over Jacob, "he wrenched Jacob's hip from its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him." Jacob does not let the mysterious being leave until he blesses him. The blessing is that Jacob will no longer be called Jacob but Israel, "because you have striven with divine beings and with humans and you have prevailed."

Commentators discuss this encounter as the most important in Jacob's life. It is symbolic of Jacob's coming of age by struggling with his past, with the life he has lived, the jealousy. the deceptions, the fears. Once and for all he is not going to run anymore. He is ready to fight, to wrestle.

Many see this verse - "and Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him all night" - as the destiny of Israel. Israel is all alone. Witness the increasing camp of those who oppose Israel. Who is still standing with Israel? Canada? The U.S.? Israel is going through a long, dark night of wrestling.

The divine being blessed Jacob at sunrise - "The sun rose upon Jacob as he passed Penuel limping on his hip." We hope for the day when the sun will shine upon Israel, and peace will prevail. In the meantime, Israel is limping, because of all the casualties and suffering because of this long, dark night of wrestling.

May we be privileged to witness the sunrise.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram