• Dvar for Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

    This week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, recounts Rachel’s last days, as she gave birth to her second son and subsequently passed away. Her dying wish was to name her son “Ben Oni” (35:18), which means “son of my pain”, but Yakov instead called him Binyamin. There is obviously great significance to names given in the Torah, and this is the first we find of a wish for a name being ignored, and the fact that it’s a dying wish being ignored possibly makes this even more significant and worthy of analysis.

    While other explanations are given, one possible reason is that while Rachel focused on a negative when naming her son (the pain she endured), Yakov thought it best to instead focus on more positive things, like the fact that Binyamin was born despite Yakov’s old age (Rashi), or the fact that one of Rachel’s descendants, Mordechai, would one day save the Jews (called “ish yemini”). It could also be even more poignant: Rachel’s pain would one day turn into a positive, as the Jews were able to pray at her grave many years later. The name change is not about suppressing pain, it’s about using it as a strength, a lesson Yakov hopefully imparts to us every time we contemplate this Parsha.

  • Dvar for Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

    As Yaakov flees his brother Esav, God promises Yaakov that he would return safely to Canaan (Genesis 28:15). Then why in this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, is Yaakov afraid? Doesn’t Yaakov’s fear reflect a lack of belief in God?

    The Abrabanel suggests that fear is a not sign of weakness, but rather a part of the human dimension, a feeling that is neither right nor wrong.  A person who is afraid should not be judged harshly, for whom among us has never been afraid? The real question is what do we do when we’re afraid.  Do we become immobilized, unable to go forward, or do we gather strength in an attempt to meet the challenges that lie ahead?  Feelings may be involuntary but actions can be controlled. Yaakov’s greatness was his preparedness to act contrary to his  natural feelings; to come back to Canaan even though it meant confronting Esav.

    Rav Nahman of Bratslav once said, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid at all.” Yaakov’s actions teach us that when we are afraid, it doesn’t mean we’re lacking in faith or conviction. Rather, it means that we have an opportunity to gather our strength and conquer our fears by confronting them. We won’t act afraid, because we won’t be afraid to act.

  • Dvar for Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

    In this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, we find Yaakov crossing the Jordan River with his family, and going back for some small earthenware jugs that he forgot (Talmud: Chulin 91). Why would a wealthy man such as Yaakov have to go back for a few jugs? One answer, according to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, is that Yaakov lived with the understanding that whatever possessions G-d gave him were for a purpose. As such, the jugs were as precious as jewels. To Yaakov, the fact that they were inexpensive didn’t matter. Rabbi Ezriel Tauber explains this with the following metaphor: If we were thirsty and asked a friend to bring us water, if they bring a paper cup filled with water, we would drink the water and throw out the cup. But now let’s say we were wandering in the desert dying of  thirst. If we were to lift our eyes to Heaven and say, “G-d, I’m dying, please make a miracle and send water!!” and behold, a hand reaches down from Heaven and gives us water in a paper cup. We would certainly drink the water… But what about the cup? We wouldn’t throw it away – a cup from Heaven is a great souvenir! Because G-d could have sent us the water any way He wanted, like making it rain, or created a well, or simply pouring the water into our mouth. The fact that G-d handed us a paper cup tells us that He not only wanted us to have the water, He wanted us to have the cup too.

    We’re only expected to work with the tools G-d provides, and whatever He provides is precisely what we need. Whether or not the eventual goal is completed is only in G-d’s hands. This idea of having everything we need is emphasized again in our Parsha, when after 20 years apart, Yaakov is reunited with his twin brother Esav. In describing their state of affairs, Esav says, “I have a lot;” and Yaakov says, “I have everything”. (33:9-11) The difference is subtle, but in fact speaks volumes. Esav is saying “I have a lot…” but I sure could use more, whereas Yaakov is saying, “According to my part in G-d’s grand eternal plan, I have everything – exactly what I need.” If we look at every possession (even little jugs) and situation as a special gift from G-d, the puzzle of life becomes truly meaningful, and more importantly, complete.

  • Dvar for Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

    As he flees his brother Esav, God promises Yaakov that he would return safely to Canaan (Genesis 28:15). Then why in this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, is Yaakov afraid? Doesn’t Yaakov’s fear reflect a lack of belief in God?

    The Abrabanel suggests that fear is a not sign of weakness, but rather a part of the human dimension, a feeling that is neither right nor wrong.  A person who is afraid should not be judged harshly, for whom among us has never been afraid? The real question is what do we do when we’re afraid?  Do we become immobilized, unable to go forward, or do we gather strength in an attempt to meet the challenges that lie ahead?  Feelings may be involuntary but actions can be controlled. Yaakov’s greatness was his preparedness to act contrary to his  natural feelings; to come back to Canaan even though it meant confronting Esav.

    Rav Nahman of Bratslav once said, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid at all.” Yaakov’s actions teach us that when we are afraid, it doesn’t mean we’re lacking in faith or conviction. Rather, it means that we have an opportunity to gather our strength and conquer our fears by confronting them. We won’t act afraid, because we won’t be afraid to act.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayishlach, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Torah continues naming the descendants of Esav and the kings that ruled the city-states, “even before there ruled a king in Israel”. Israel must still go through many stages of refinement and pass through many trials and tribulations before they are to emerge as The People of Israel. This is echoed in the Pesach Haggada when it says that G-d gave territory to Esav and Yakov and his sons went down into Mitzrayim.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayishlach, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Jacob’s family continued on towards Chevron. While en route, Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, passed away while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. Jacob buried her on the spot, on the roadside leading to Bethlechem. They traveled yet further, and Jacob’s eldest son, Reuven, interfered with his father’s marital life. At long last, Jacob arrived in Chevron. Isaac died, and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah alongside his wife and parents. The Torah now lists the wives and descendents of Esav, who left Canaan and settled in Se’ir.

    Some say that Reuven moved Yakov’s bed from the tent of Bilha – where Yakov had placed it after Rachel’s death – into his mother’s tent. The Torah’s cryptic description of what he did is considered a sharp rebuke for his actions, which were disrespectful to his father. What type of “rebuke” is it for us to read it thousands of years later? Unless the legacy of Reuven takes a hit when we think of him negatively (as does anyone’s legacy), to which the Torah is (and by extension we should be) sensitive to.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayishlach, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Jacob’s daughter, Dina, ventured out into the city of Shechem, when Shechem, also the name of the crown prince of the city, abducted and violated her and kept her hostage. Chamor, the governor of the city, approached Jacob and informed him that his son Shechem was infatuated with Dina and desired her hand in marriage. Jacob’s sons slyly agreed to the proposition, provided that all the men of the city would circumcise themselves. Upon the urging of Chamor and Shechem, the Shechemites agreed to the proposal. On the third day following their mass circumcision, Dina’s two brothers, Simon and Levi, entered the vulnerable city, killed all its male inhabitants, and liberated Dina from Shechem’s home. Jacob was displeased by this act, fearing reprisal from the neighboring Canaanites. Nonetheless, Jacob traveled on, and “the fear of G‑d” was upon the surrounding cities and they did not pursue Jacob and his family. Jacob arrived in Canaan, in Beth-El, and G‑d appeared to him, blessed him, and changed his name to Israel.

    Among the reactions to Dina’s rape is Yakov’s silence, her brothers’ sadness, anger followed by revenge. Their anger, however, was on behalf of Dina (34:13) and their father (34:7). In contrast, all of Shechem’s actions were driven by his lust for Dina (34:11). So we have another conflict between opposing forces: those that think and do for others vs. those that think and do selfishly for themselves, and to everyone else’s detriment. There’s a lot to learn about how to deal (or not deal) with diametrically opposing viewpoints.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayishlach, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Jacob’s family approached and greeted Esav (except for Dina, whom Jacob hid). Despite Esav’s objections, Jacob prevailed upon him to accept the gift he had sent ahead. Esav offered to accompany Jacob on his trip home, but Jacob declined the gesture. Esav returned to his home in Se’ir, and Jacob proceeded to the city of Sukkot. Eventually Jacob arrived at the outskirts of the city of Shechem, where he purchased a plot of land and erected an altar to G‑d.

    Why did Yakov hide Dina from Esav? Some explain that Yakov did not want Esav to ask for (take) Dina as a wife and thereby subject her to his wickedness. For this, Yakov was punished, because Dina would have been a positive influence on Esav. Commentaries ask whether Yakov should be praised, rather than punished, for protecting Dina. Bartenura says that Yakov’s reason for hiding Dina was not the fear of anything negative happening to her,but the fear that she would succeed in reforming Esav, which would make him worthy of the blessing that he would dominate his brother.All these possibilities highlight the ambiguity of life, and the far-reaching consequences of our actions and inactions, many of which will not be known to us for years, if ever. All we can do is make the best informed decision we can at the time, and hope G-d gave us the wisdom to make the right one.

  • Dvar for Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:40)

    As he flees his brother Esav, God promises Yaakov that he would return safely to Canaan (Genesis 28:15). Then why in this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, is Yaakov afraid? Doesn’t Yaakov’s fear reflect a lack of belief in God?

    The Abrabanel suggests that fear is a not sign of weakness, but rather a part of the human dimension, a feeling that is neither right nor wrong.  A person who is afraid should not be judged harshly, for whom among us has never been afraid? The real question is what do we do when we’re afraid. Do we become immobilized, unable to go forward, or do we gather strength in an attempt to meet the challenges that lie ahead?  Feelings may be involuntary but actions can be controlled. Yaakov’s greatness was his preparedness to act contrary to his  natural feelings; to come back to Canaan even though it meant confronting Esav.

    Rav Nahman of Bratslav once said, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid at all.” Yaakov’s actions teach us that when we are afraid, it doesn’t mean we’re lacking in faith or conviction. Rather, it means that we have an opportunity to gather our strength and conquer our fears by confronting them. We won’t act afraid, because we won’t be afraid to act.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayishlach, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Torah informs us that we don’t eat the sciatic nerve of otherwise kosher animals because of the wrestling episode mentioned in the previous section. Esav arrived. Jacob respectfully approached his brother, who then ran towards him and embraced him, as they both wept.

    It is well known that the word for “and he kissed him” is written in the Torah with dots above the word. This is calling our attention to the word. Rashi tells us that there are two Traditions about the meaning of the word. One opinion is that the kiss was not sincere, that Esav still hates Yakov, and that he was only going through the motions. The other opinion is that “at this moment”, Esav was overcome by sincere brotherly emotions and kissed Yakov with all his heart. We often have mixed emotions about things, and should always try to follow the appropriate emotion.

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