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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weekly Bible Study~Vayishlach ~Genesis 32:4 to 36:43

This weeks reading is Vayishlach (Hebrew for "he sent") and is found in Genesis 32:4 to 36:43.

After being away for twenty years, Jacob begins his journey home to see his father Isaac. Still fearing the anger of his brother (Esau), he decides to send messengers ahead with a message of greeting. When they return and report that Esau is coming to "meet" him--with a troop of 400 men--Jacob starts to worry. He decides to split his family and possessions into two groups, so that one would engage in a battle so the rest could flee. Jacob then prays,  "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac"...and asks to be delivered from the wrath of Esau.

Jacob decides to "soften" Esau with a lavish gift of hundreds of heads of  goats, ewes, nursing camels and their young, cows, bulls, and male and female donkeys. He spaces them out, sending one herd at a time. Each herder is given instructions that when he encounters Esau to tell him; "[I belong] to your servant Jacob; it is a gift sent to my master, to Esau, and behold, he himself is behind us." Jacob then takes his family accross the Jabbok River ("luxuriant river"). When he is the last one left  Jacob again encounters an angel--this time it is Esau's archangel. 

They wrestle until dawn, but the angel is unable to overpower Jacob, so instead he damages Jacob's sciatic nerve, leaving him with a permanent limp.  When the angel tries to leave Jacob refuses to release him until he gives him a blessing. This the angel does, then tells him that his name will be changed to Israel. Jacob names the place Peniel (face of Gd), for as he said, "I saw an angel face to face, and my soul was saved." According to the Torah, Jews to this day may not eat the sciatic nerve--even of kosher animals--because of this.

Esau arrives on the scene and the brothers embrace each other and weep. Jacob's family meets Esau and Jacob forces Esau to accept the gifts he had sent. Although Esau wants to accompany Jacob home, Jacob declines so Esau returns alone to his home in Se'ir. Jacob carries on to (Sukkot) where  he builds himself a house, and makes booths for his cattle.  Jacob eventually reaches the outskirts of Shechem and purchases a plot of land where he erects an alter to Gd.


Dina, Jacobs daughter wanders into the city of Shechem where the crown prince (Shechem) abducts and violates her and keeps her hostage. Shechem's father, the governor goes to Jacob to ask for Dina's hand in marriage to his son. Jacob is clever, and says that if all the men of the city agree to circumcise themselves he will give Dina to Shechem. The men agree, but while they are recovering Dina's brothers, Simon and Levi enter the city, kill all the males and free Dina. Jacob is not pleased and is afraid of reprisals from the neighboring Canaanites. Nonetheless, Jacob continues on his way. The "fear of Gd" comes over the surrounding cities and Jacob and his family are able to travel through unhindered. They arrive in Canaan, in Beth-El, where Gd blesses Jacob saying "And the land that I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, I will give to you and to your seed after you will I give the land." He is re-named Israel.

Jacob and his family continue on to Hebron. On the roadside leading to Bethlehem, his beloved wife Rachel gives birth to her second son, Benjamin (the twelfth of the tribes of Israel.) Rachel dies and Jacob buries her there in what is now known as Rachel's Tomb. They continue on to Eder and while they are there, Israel's eldest son, Reuben lays with his concubine Bilhah. Jacob is aware of this.

Finally Jacob and his family arrive in Hebron. Isaac dies soon after at the age of 180 and is buried by his sons in the Cave of Machpelah alongside his wife and parents. 

The Torah lists the wives and decendents of Esau who had left Canaan and settled in Se'ir.

The last section gives an enumeration of the princes of the original Se'irite natives, as well as the monarchs of that land that descended from Esau. These "lists" may seem boring, but they are vital in establishing historical ancestry. Remember, there is nothing extra in the Torah and we must strive to understand the deeper meanings as we learn.

Next week Jacob and his twelve sons settle in Hebron and we learn of the jealousy Joseph's brothers feel and their vengeful actions. Judah is outsmarted by his daughter-in-law Tamar, while poor Joseph ends up in an Egyptian jail with Pharaoh's butler and baker.

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