Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Parshat VaYishlach

Wrestling with the Present

Shortly before Yaakov's reunion with Esav, the Torah presents us with a strange episode: "He was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn" (Bereshit 32:25). The man then dislocates Yaakov's hip, and Yaakov forces him to bless him. The blessing he received was that his name would become Yisrael. What is going on here?

Yaakov was the father of Galut - the prototype of the Jew in exile. He flees from Canaan, to an unknown future, and encounters darkness and fear. He is cheated countless times by Lavan and has no recourse but to accept his predicament. Lavan's sons blame him from usurping their father's wealth and Yaakov flees once more. Yet throughout all, Yaakov succeeds and grows into a rich and powerful dynasty: "for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps" (Bereshit 32:11).

Yet even upon return, Yaakov remains with his exilic mentality. He is panicked when facing Esav (ibid 8). He tries to pay him off with a huge tribute and even hints at returning the blessing he had decieved him out of: "Now take my blessing" (ibid 33:11), after repeatedly stating that he is Esav's servant.

Yaakov needed to change. The man stops Yaakov from fleeing. He does this by holding him back and eventually dislocating his hip, forcing him to limp. Yaakov can no longer flee. Yet more than that, he changes Yaakov's name, i.e, he gives him a new identity.

Yaakov means "heel" (i.e. low see 25:26), and "crooked" (i.e. cheat - see 27:26) - identities appropiate for exile. Yisrael means "prince" (sar [שר] - high) and "straight"(yashar [ישר]). Furthermore, the man blesses Yaakov implying that rather than fleeing (being on his heels), Yaakov should face up to his problems and struggle [שרית] with them. The process may injure him but he will at least he would be in control of his own destiny. This blessing was a process for Yaakov to develop. Yaakov still remains Yaakov but begins to adopt Yisrael capabilities.

Perhaps this metamorphis is a process that the Jews of Israel have begun, but have not yet completed.


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