Parsha Perspectives

Brothers in Torah


ויצו אתם לאמר כה תאמרון לאדני לעשו כה אמר עבדך יעקב עם לבן גרתי ואחר עד עתה

“And [Jacob] commanded them saying, ‘Thus you should tell my master, Esau: Your servant, Jacob, sends word that he dwelled with Laban and delayed there until now’ ” (Bereishit 32:5).

 Fleeing the house of his crooked father-in-law Laban, Jacob found himself faced with a very troubling scouting report: his disgruntled brother Esau was heading towards him with an army of four hundred, to avenge Jacob’s (supposed) theft of Isaac’s blessings. Jacob sent gifts and conciliatory messages ahead to attempt to appease Esau. Part of the carefully worded message that Jacob’s diplomatic envoys took to Esau was a description of Jacob’s time in the house of Laban.

The Hebrew word used in here is dwelled — גרתי — garti. If we were to rearrange the letters of the word גרתי, we would come up with תריג — the number of commandments in the Torah. Our sages explain that Jacob’s use of this word alludes to the fact that while he was living in Laban’s house, he kept all 613 laws of the Torah.

This comment is extremely puzzling. Why would the wicked Esau care about Jacob’s religious observances while living in Laban’s house?

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, reads this line as a statement of intent. Jacob was making serious overtures of brotherhood and reconciliation by sending material gifts to Esau. Esau might have been disillusioned into believing that Jacob’s professed friendship would come at any cost. Thus, Jacob wanted to emphasize that he dwelled in the house of a wicked man for twenty years, yet did not compromise even one of G-d’s commandments. The message was clear: Jacob would love to make peace with Esau — but not at the cost of G-d’s word.

One can even understand Jacob’s message on a deeper level.

On the surface, one might think that Jacob sought peace with Esau because he feared him and his massive army. Rather, Jacob was saying, “I came to you with the intent of fulfilling all of my Jewish obligations, including the commandment to love my brother.” To assure Esau that he was genuine in his desire for peace and love, he reported that he observed the commandments in their entirety even in the moral desolation of his father-in-law’s house.

So Jacob was not just detailing his uncompromising stance in terms of G-d’s word, he was actually telling Esau that it was this same G-d-given law that was prompting him to make peace in the first place.

Many of us harbor the mistaken impression that deepening religious commitment is an act of social isolation — that if you’re dedicated to your relationship with G-d, then your relationship with others must fall by the wayside. With this one line, our forefather Jacob shattered that myth.

Not only does serving G-d not preclude having a relationship with all types of people, those friendships are actually enhanced by the positive values we are religiously committed to.


ויאמר אם יבוא עשו אל המחנה האחת והכהו והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה

“For he (Jacob) said, ‘If Esau comes to one camp and strikes it down, then the remaining camp shall survive.” (Bereishit 32:9)

Old hatreds die hard. For thirty-four years, Jacob knew he would eventually have to confront Esau and the hostility he bore toward him over the loss of Isaac’s blessing. (Bereishit 27:41) Would there be war? Would there be peace? What could he do to ensure the survival of his family and the future of the Jewish people? These were the questions that plagued Jacob’s mind as he prepared for his encounter with Esau.

Jacob’s response took the form of three specific strategies: he prayed to G-d for protection; he attempted to assuage Esau’s anger by sending him an extensive and elaborate gift of cattle and livestock; and he prepared for war.  (Rashi, Bereishit 32:9) Jacob’s preparation for war was accomplished by dividing his household into two camps, on the assumption that Esau would not be able to destroy all of his family in one battle.

Regarding this tactic, Nachmanides asks a fundamental question:  How could Jacob be so confident that by splitting up his family, he was ensuring the survival of one of the groups? After all, Jacob’s two “camps” consisted of four wives and 11 children under the age of 14.  Esau had an army of 400 armed men!

Based on a Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 76:3) Nachmanidies explains Jacob knew through Divine inspiration that his family and the entire Jewish nation would never be completely destroyed by Esau or any of his descendants throughout history. He knew without a doubt that at least a portion of his family would survive the encounter with Esau, and it was up to G-d to orchestrate how this would play itself out. Jacob therefore divided his family into two camps to create a physical representation of this awareness, while also taking whatever practical measures he could take to protect his family following a natural course of events.

A similar concern gripped the Jewish people with Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany in 1933. Rabbi Israel Mayer Kagan, more widely known as the Chafetz Chaim, was asked the following question by one of the faculty members of his yeshiva in Radin, Poland: “We hear reports from our brothers in Germany about Hitler’s plan to completely annihilate the Jewish people from Europe. Does the Rabbi think he’ll be successful?”

The Chafetz Chaim answered by pointing to the aforementioned verse, ‘If one camp is struck, the other will survive.’ The man took the Chafetz Chaim’s answer to mean that Judaism in Europe would be destroyed, but that another group would remain to reestablish Jewry in another part of the word. The man inquired further:  “Where will the ‘remaining camp’ be?” The Chafetz Chaim answered with a verse from this week’s Haftarah: “But on Mount Zion (Jerusalem) there will be a remnant…” (Obadiah 1:17)

As is well-known, Hitler was not satisfied with his assault on the Jews of Europe. He set his sights on the Jewish community in the Land of Israel (then known as Palestine) as well.  However, his plans were miraculously thwarted in the Battles of El Alamein in the summer and fall of 1942. The Allied victory ended the German advance on Palestine and saved the lives of 500,000 Jews living there at the time.

Nearly seventy years later, Israel is home to the highest concentration of Jews and Torah study in the world. The Chafetz Chaim’s insight, based on this week’s portion, proved to be completely accurate! Indeed, according to Nachmanides, history has shown that whenever the Jews suffered oppression under one ruler, there has always been another place where the Jewish people could find refuge.

History has also shown that the threat to the survival of the Jewish people is not always physical in nature. Many times, that threat is spiritual – whether it comes in the form of harsh decrees, or whether it comes in the form of a benevolent and welcoming society. Certainly, the experience of the Jewish people in America has shown how difficult it can be for individual Jews to maintain their allegiance to our heritage when surrounded by a society that welcomes us into its midst.

At such times, there will also be two camps dividing the Jewish people. A segment of Jews may be tragically lost, confused and alienated from its own heritage. The committed “camp,” then, must strengthen itself as a place of refuge, a sanctuary that offers comfort and guidance to any Jew who wishes to reconnect.

The upcoming Chanukah holiday is the ideal time for us to rededicate ourselves, while offering refuge and sharing the light of Jewish commitment to fellow Jews.


וירא כי לא יכל לו ויגע בכף ירכו ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו

“When [the stranger] saw that he could not defeat him, he touched the upper joint of [Jacob’s] thigh. Jacob’s hip joint became dislocated as he wrestled with [the stranger]” (Bereishit 32:26).

Jacob fought a momentous battle against the angel of Esau — a battle that would portend many battles and struggles between the descendants of Jacob (the Jewish people) and the descendants of Esau (the Romans, Christians, and Germans). Toward the end of the struggle, the angel saw that things weren’t working out quite as he had envisioned. Since he could not defeat Jacob, he injured him. Since the Torah says that he limped away from the area, we know that this injury stayed with Jacob for quite a while.

Jacob defeated the angel, and this victory imbued in his descendants the ability to overcome their enemies. But didn’t Jacob leave with an injury? We don’t read about any injuries to the angel, so why do we say that the injured combatant was the winner? Who really won?

In a physical battle, the one who emerges less wounded is considered the winner. But this was a spiritual battle, the only type one can wage with an angel. In this type of fight, the fact that one side leaves the playing field and resorts to physically hurting his opponent is a clear sign that he lost the fight.

This unfortunately has been the protocol of Esau’s descendants throughout history. They try to convince the Jews that their religion is superior, that they are the true bearers of the truth. Upon seeing the Jews steadfastness or upon being proven wrong theologically, they resort to physically lashing out at them.

Understanding this behavior can help us engage in debate in healthier ways. We need to stick to the subject of an argument and avoid going on a personal attack. If a husband and wife are disputing whether a child is too sick to attend school, one shouldn’t allow the disagreement to devolve into recriminations such as, “You never listen to me…” Not only does an argument escalate into a fight; the party who fans the flames usually demonstrates that their point of view is not backed by valid reasoning.

Disagreements inevitably arise; it’s up to us to ensure that our arguments don’t cross the delicate line between discussion and hurtfulness, nastiness, or fighting.


כי שרית עם אלקים ועם אנשים ותוכל

“For you have striven with the Divine and with men and have overcome.” (Bereishit 32:29)

After ferrying his family across a river, Jacob returned to the other side to retrieve some small pitchers that he forgot. He was confronted by an angel, who wrestled with him throughout the night. After realizing that he could not overcome Jacob, the angel informed him that because he had successfully wrestled with Hashem and with men, his name would be changed to Israel.

Rashi explains that “with men” refers to Jacob’s triumphs over Laban and Esau. As our parsha begins with Jacob being forced to give a substantial gift to Esau and to lower himself by bowing to his wicked brother in an attempt to placate his wrath, in what way can this be considered victorious? Wasn’t it Esau who emerged from their encounter with his ego intact after Jacob was forced to flatter and capitulate to him?

Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik answers that this question is based on a common, fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of “success.” Victory is not defined as subduing and crushing the other side. Rather, it is defined by one’s objectives. A person who successfully accomplishes his goals, whatever they may be, is indeed victorious. Jacob’s goal was to be able to pursue his service of Hashem and to raise his children to continue in his pious ways without outside distractions or interference. If the only way to accomplish that objective was to give Esau a considerable number of animals as a present and to humble himself before his arrogant brother, then he was quite willing and happy to do so.

Jacob was able to keep his eyes “on the prize,” focusing on the larger picture of his more important spiritual goals. Because he indeed pacified his brother’s wrath, and was able to send him away and return to his service of Hashem, the Torah considers Jacob victorious.

From the Torah’s definition of success, a similar and critical lesson regarding shalom bayis (marital harmony) may be derived. If a person’s goal in life and in his marriage is to selfishly make sure that everything is done in accordance with his personal opinions and preferences, then any time that his spouse acquiesces he has succeeded in meeting his objectives, and any time that he is forced to give in then he has failed. While this model may be comfortable and familiar, it will not help a person find long-term happiness and satisfaction.

Rather, a person should strive to be mature enough to make his needs secondary to the greater cause and ultimate goal of establishing an atmosphere of love, trust, and mutual respect so that the Shechina (Divine Presence) will find a comfortable dwelling place in his home. A person who does so may find himself compromising more than he would have liked, but his ability to do so will allow him to successfully accomplish his true goal. He will reap the immeasurable benefits and security of a warm and loving relationship which is worth more than all of life’s mundane trivialities combined, and he will recognize that doing so makes him the real winner.


יש לי רב. יש לי כל

“I [Esau] have plenty. I [Jacob] have all.” (Bereishit 33:9, 11)

“Esau spoke boastfully, proclaiming:
‘I have plenty more than I could ever want.’

Jacob said, ‘I have everything that I require.’” (Rashi)

In one brief dialogue, the divergent philosophies of Jacob and Esau are manifest. Their candid attitudes reveal dramatically different world-views. What is the source of the great divide?

Esau evaluates his personal wealth in terms of quantity (“plenty”), as opposed to Jacob, who does so in terms of quality (“all”). While the former is still hopelessly addicted to temporary material existence, the latter is living life on a higher frequency.

A powerful king once approached the famous Baron Rothschild and candidly asked him what he was worth. The Baron is reputed to have answered that he was worth some 50 million francs. The king felt that the answer somehow understated his true holdings and did some investigation. When he discovered that Baron Rothschild really was worth 500 million francs, he felt betrayed, and confronted the Baron again. “Why have you misled me and violated our trusting relationship? I am aware that your assets exceed 500 million francs!” The Baron humbly replied that true, his holdings were some 500 million francs – but the king had asked, “How much are you worth?” To that the Baron was compelled to tell the truth. “What I gave to charity approaches 50 million francs. What I have managed to give away is actually accounted to my “worth.” That is what I carry with me. It is locked in a vault of good deeds forever. As to what will happen to the remainder of my wealth, I am uncertain. I do not count it as my personal worth.’”

The spiritually-oriented person is not compelled to impress or be impressed by that which lies outside of himself. His true ambition is aimed at goals that are within his reachable realm, and his physical possessions are merely a means to achieve those ends and not the ends themselves.

“All” expresses a spiritual orientation, as the ladder in Jacob’s dream, and not a horizontal approach, which allows only a physical experience. The physical world is competitive, because two cannot own the same object simultaneously.

In the spiritual dimension of life, a person only competes against his own potential. One is never better than another, but only better than he would have been if he had not made the effort. Possessions then become a vehicle that can bring us closer to The Divine source of those objects. We are taught in Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avos 3:8), “Give Him from His own, for you and your possessions are His!” The ideal spiritual drive is for a state of being rather than a condition of having.

If one has a deeply invested relationship with the Almighty, then one can truly say that he has all, even if he is materially deficient. Baron Rothschild’s response to the king can serve as our model for how we would describe our own lives. Would we look outward or inward? Would we say, “I have” or “I am,” “I have plenty” or “I have all”?

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Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

Q: Jacob instructed his messengers to tell his brother Esau that he had dwelt until this point with Laban (Bereishit 32:4). What was his purpose in sharing this seemingly irrelevant information? Rashi explains that the numerical value of the word – I dwelt – is 613, the number of mitzvos in the Torah. In other words, Jacob was telling Esau that although I dwelt in the house of the wicked Laban, I still observed the 613 commandments, and I also didn’t learn from his wicked ways. If Jacob kept all of the mitzvos, isn’t it clear that he didn’t learn from Laban’s ways? Why did Jacob need to stress this self-evident point?

 A: Rabbi Yissochar Frand explains that Rashi is teaching that it is possible for a person to observe all of the commandments, while still absorbing the values and priorities of his alien surroundings. It is possible to strictly observe the letter of the law while losing sight of the larger picture, which also includes the spirit of the law. For example, a person may make a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah which is strictly kosher yet extremely ostentatious. A woman may wear clothing which conforms to the technical laws of modesty but attracts so much attention that it violates the underlying principles of tznius (modesty). Parents may send their children to the finest schools but not set aside quality time to spend with them, or worse, they may create a home which is built on values that run counter to the values that their children are taught in school. As we constantly strive to improve our mitzvah performance, we must be careful to ensure that our actions are not tainted by the culture in which we live, so that they conform not only to the letter of the law, but to the spirit of the law as well. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)


Rashi writes (Bereishit 32:5) that Jacob sent a message to his brother Esau stating that although he had dwelled with the wicked Laban for 20 years, he had remained steadfast in his faith and had continued to observe all 613 commandments. Since it is impossible for anyone to observe all of the mitzvos when some are unique to men and some to women, with others unique to Kohanim, Levites, or Israelites, what could he have meant by claiming that he had observed all 613 commandments? (Taam V’Daas by Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch)


The Torah (Bereishit 32:8-16) outlines Jacob’s three-fold approach to dealing with the mounting aggression of his alienated brother Esau: 1) preparing for war (by splitting his camp and attempting to ensure that at least part of his family would survive), 2) engaging in heartfelt prayer to G-d, and 3) sending Esau an extraordinary array of gifts. The Torah then describes their actual encounter as follows:

“Jacob raised his eyes and saw – behold, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men – so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two handmaids. He put the handmaids and their children first, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. Then he himself went on ahead of them and bowed earthward seven times until he reached his brother. Esau ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and kissed him; then they wept. He raised his eyes and saw the women and children, and he asked, ‘Who are these to you?’ He answered, ‘The children whom G-d has graciously given your servant.’” (Bereishit 33:1-5)

1) Which of the three strategies effected the change in Esau’s attitude towards Jacob?

2) Assuming that the three strategies were stated in chronological order, why would he have prepared for war before turning to prayer, and only then sent gifts to Esau?


Q: It is peculiar to note that after hearing another person recite any blessing, we answer simply, “Amen,” with one exception. After hearing somebody say Birkat HaGomel (the Blessing of Thanksgiving), we respond at length: “אמן מי שגמלך כל הוא יגמלך כל טוב סלה” – He who has bestowed upon you all good should continue to bestow upon you all good, something we find in no other place. What is unique about this blessing, and why is our response to hearing it different than to any other blessing?

 A: Rashi explains (Bereishit 32:11) that although Hashem had promised to protect Jacob and return him safely to the land of Canaan, he feared that perhaps the miracles Hashem had subsequently performed for him had depleted his supply of merits, as the Gemora in Shabbos (32a) states that miracles which are performed on behalf of a person subtract from his accumulated merits in the World to Come. With this insight, the Shalmei Nedarim explains that Birkat HaGomel is recited after a person has been saved from illness or other potential danger. While we are happy that the person making the blessing survived, we are also afraid that it may have come at the expense of whatever merits he had accumulated until now. Therefore, a simple “Amen” won’t suffice, and we must add a special supplication requesting that the good should continue and not be depleted through this miracle. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)


Q: The Torah relates that just prior to his climactic encounter with his brother Esau, Jacob crossed a river together with his two wives, two maidservants, and 11 children (Bereishit 32:23). As Jacob had 12 children at this point, why does the Torah say that he crossed with only 11 of them? Rashi explains that Jacob hid his daughter Dina in a box so that the wicked Esau couldn’t lay his eyes on her, an act for which he was punished. Because Jacob withheld Dina from marrying Esau, which would have enabled her to inspire him to repent his wicked ways, he was punished when she was taken forcefully by Sh’chem. This is difficult to understand, as the Talmud in Pesachim (49b) teaches that it is inappropriate to marry one’s daughter to somebody who is uneducated, and all the more so to an established evildoer. If so, what did Jacob do wrong, and for what was he punished?

 A: Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, known as the Alter of Kelm, explains that Jacob’s actions were technically and legally justified, as he was merely following the Talmud’s advice in protecting Dina from Esau. Still, although his decision was correct, Hashem also closely examined the more subtle points of his motivation. He found that Jacob closed and locked Dina’s box too quickly and with more force than was necessary. In the words of Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, he should have instead released a “krechtz” (groan) as an expression of the feelings of sadness that he was forced to withhold his daughter from his brother. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

Upon learning of Simon and Levi’s plan to take revenge against Shechem and his townsmen, Jacob made did not rebuke them concerning their actions and motivations. Rather, he simply expressed his concern about the possibility of reprisals by the surrounding towns. Before his death, he castigated in strong terms the violence and anger they demonstrated in their conspiracy (Bereishit 49:5-7). If he disapproved of their actions, why didn’t he admonish them immediately so that they could repent? (MiTzionMich’lal Yofee by Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl)

Jacob’s brother Esau was coming after him with a large army. Fearing that he’d either be killed or be forced to kill, Jacob divided his entire camp in two (if one half would be struck, at least the other half would survive) and crossed a river to put distance between them and Esau. Jacob then left the camp and, all alone, crossed the river once more to retrieve some small jugs he’d left behind (Rashi Bereishit 32:25). While there, Esau’s Guardian Angel found him alone and wrestled with him until dawn. Though wounded, Jacob prevailed. He turned to the angel and asked for his name (Bereishit 32:7-30).

  1. Jacob made extensive preparations to protect himself and his camp, dividing them and putting distance between them and Esau. Yet right afterwards, he secluded himself, making a solo trip back across the river — for a few jugs! What deeper message might the Torah be implying?
  2. Jacob had just struggled with Esau’s Guardian Angel through the night. We might think that his first question would be, “Why did you fight with me?” Instead, he asked for the angel’s name.  What might have prompted him to ask this question at this particular time?


Q: Rabbi Shlomo HaKohen of Vilna quotes an amazing fact in the name of his father. He writes that in the Messianic era the consumption of the gid ha’nashe (sciatic nerve), which is presently forbidden, will become permitted. Why will this prohibition no longer be applicable, and where is this alluded to in the Torah?

A: He explains that this is because there are 365 sinews in the human body, each of which mystically corresponds to one of the days of the solar calendar. The Holy Zohar teaches that the sciatic nerve corresponds to Tisha B’Av, and that by dislodging it, Esau’s angel gave strength to his descendants to destroy the Holy Temple twice on that day. However, in the times of Moshiach, when the damage caused by Esau’s action will be reversed and the Holy Temple permanently rebuilt, this reason will no longer be applicable and the gid ha’nashe will once again be permitted. This fascinating change is actually hinted to in the Torah (Bereishit 32:33). In relating the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve, the Torah states that as a result of the angel’s wounding Jacob in that place, the Jewish people don’t eat it until the present day, which implies that there will come a time after the present day when it will indeed be eaten! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)


Following the abduction and violation of Dina’s chastity by Shechem, Shimon and Levi avenged her honor by killing the men of the city. Although Jacob was greatly disturbed by what they did, the Torah appears to suspend judgment as to whether or not their actions on behalf of their sister were justified.  (Bereishit 34:1-31)


1) Before meeting Esau, Jacob was distressed by the possibility that he would have to kill another human being – even more so than by the threat of being killed himself. (Rashi, Bereishit 32:8)  Yet, when he criticized Shimon and Levi, it was for bringing dishonor to him and the family. (Bereishit 34:30) Given that Jacob himself abhorred the notion of murderous violence, why would he be more critical of the damage to the family reputation than of their act of violence in killing a whole city?

2) On his deathbed, Jacob cursed Shimon and Levi’s anger, which led them to kill other people. (Bereishit 49:5-7) However, this was forty or fifty years after the fact, when they had developed into righteous leaders of their tribes. This indicates that Jacob was in fact deeply troubled by the killings. Why was it more beneficial to wait so long to address this issue, which dated back to their youth?


All Jews around the world are referred to as “Yehudim.” Most commentators explain that it is derived from the name of Yehuda, who was one of the 12 tribes and merited to eternally connect his name with Judaism. Rashi writes (Bereishit 36:2) that one of Esau’s wives was named Ohalivama, but he called her “Yehudis” in an effort to trick his father Isaac into thinking that he was righteous and had married a virtuous woman. As Esau married her roughly 40 years before the birth of Yehuda, this would seem to indicate that it was a “Jewish” name in its own right, even before the birth of Yehuda. What is the intrinsic “Jewish” quality in the names Yehuda and Yehudis? (Hint: Look at the Hebrew spelling of both names)

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Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study



“He commanded them saying, ‘This is what you should say to my master, Esau: Your servant, Jacob says, I lived as a stranger with Laban, and was delayed until now.’” Bereishit 32:5

I Lived As A Stranger – The gematria [numerical value] of the word, “garti” (lived) is 613. By using this term, he implied, “I have lived with the wicked Laban and yet have faithfully observed the 613 commandments and have not learned from his wicked deeds.” – Rashi

What point was Jacob trying to convey to Esau by referring to his piety while living with Laban? Why did he believe that doing so would somehow affect Esau’s decision to attack him? Jacob understood that militarily, Esau was far too powerful to encounter in battle. Consequently, Jacob sought to dissuade Esau from pursuing his evil designs by impressing upon him that his physical strength would fade in the face of Jacob’s spiritual might. The twenty years he spent in the presence of the master sinner Laban without succumbing to temptation virtually guaranteed that G-d would be on his side and help him defend himself against Esau and his formidable army.


“I am unworthy of all the kindness and of all the faithfulness that you have done with Your servant for with my walking stick I have passed over this [river] Jordan and now I have become two camps.” Bereishit 32:11

I am unworthy of all the kindness – My merits have become severely reduced as a result of the kindnesses and truths which You have done on my behalf and therefore I fear that perhaps I have sinned and caused You not to be able to fulfill Your promises to me and this will lead to my being captured at the hands of Esau. — Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040—1105)

I am unworthy of all the kindness – From here we derive that when praying, one should focus on his own inadequacy and on the preeminence of the Master to whom he is a servant. This is why Jacob referred to himself as, “Your servant.” He should also reflect upon the many kindnesses that the Almighty heaps upon him… — Rabbeinu Bachya

During times of plenty and peace, people are generally quick to appreciate their good fortune and even thank the Almighty, but when circumstances sour, they quickly forget the good times and concentrate only on their misfortune and forget any good that ever came their way. As a result, they only see room for blame and imagine that the Almighty must be either unfair, or angry with them. Jacob took the opposite tack. He recognized that until this point in time, he’d enjoyed incredible Divine protection and there was no way he could now see anyone other than himself as the one to blame for his current predicament. In doing so, he proved himself a loyal servant of the Almighty and earned even greater Divine Protection.


“Please my master, go on ahead of your servant. I will lead on gently, in my slow pace, according to the pace of the work that is before me, and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my master in Seir.” Bereishit 32:14

Until I Come To My Master In Seir – Jacob set a greater distance for his meeting Esau than he intended to travel, for he intended to go only until Sukkot. He thought to himself: ‘If he intends to harm me, let him wait until I come to him.’ And, therefore, he did not go to Seir. When will he eventually fulfill his promise to meet Esau at Seir? In the days of the Messiah, as it is said: ‘And deliverers will go up to Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau.’ – Rashi

Until “I Come” – The Hebrew word for “I come” is “Avo,” whose gematria is 4. Jacob was hinting to Esau that only after the Four Exiles will he meet him, when the Messiah will finally appear. – Baal HaTurim

Until I Come To My Master In Seir – The Hebrew word used in this verse for Seir is “Seirah,” whose letters comprise the words, “Shaar Yud Hey,” which means, the 15th gate. This is a mystical allusion to the Messianic Era, when the physical world represented by the number seven, and the spiritual world represented by the number eight, will converge. – Chassidic Masters

Although Jacob temporarily stayed Esau’s hand, he knew that his work was far from complete. It would be a great many years until Esau would agree to permanently set aside his enmity for Jacob and consent to work together with him for the betterment of the universe. This is what lay behind Jacob’s allusion to the Messianic Era, when the non-Jewish world will reconcile with the Jewish people to join hands and collaborate in the service of G-d.


“Jacob asked him, and said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ He said, ‘Why do you ask for my name?’ He then blessed him there.” Bereishit 32:30

He then blessed him there – This means that he acknowledged Jacob’s right to the blessings that he had taken from Esau. – Rabbeinu Bachya

Why do you ask for my name – We do not have a set name. Our names keep changing depending on the command of the mission we are sent to fulfill. – Rashi

Why do you ask for my name – Knowing my name will serve no useful function because I am powerless to help you if you call upon me. Only the Almighty can assist you, but I will not respond nor can I save you in a time of need. – Ramban

Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda) explains that Jacob knew that an angel’s name changes according to his mission. Yet, he wanted to know his name at this moment so he could know where to draw upon this particular form of strength should he need it in the future. To this, the angel explained that Jacob has no need for this knowledge because Jacob prays to G-d for salvation. One who relies on the Almighty has no need for alternative sources of salvation.


“Therefore, the Children of Israel must not eat the Gid HaNosheh [sinew vein] which is on the hip joint, until this very day because he struck Jacob’s hip joint on the Gid HaNosheh.” Bereishit 32:33

Must Not Eat the Gid HaNosheh – Why is it called the Gid HaNosheh [displaced tendon]? Because it was dislocated and moved up… – Rashi

Therefore, the Children of Israel must not eat – As a remembrance of the strength of Jacob and the great miracle that the Almighty performed on his behalf that he did not allow him to be killed. – Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir,a grandson of Rashi)

Therefore, the Children of Israel must not eat – As a remembrance of the fact that our forefather battled with an angel and emerged victorious! – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor

Kli Yakar (Rabbi Ephraim Luntshitz of Lemberg 1550—1619) adds that we often find in the Talmud that philosophical and halachic matters that are too difficult to fathom are referred to as Giddin (tendons), because they’re tough to chew and digest. The word “eat” on the other hand, is used by our sages to refer to successful in-depth analysis of halachic and philosophical concepts. This prohibition by the Torah against consuming the sinew vein is a symbol of the Torah’s reluctance to allow us to delve too deeply into the unfathomable elements of our existence. Part of the reason they are so unfathomable is because our perspective is clouded by the influence of Esau on this physical earth which prevents us from evaluating them with a clear mind and we may stumble and arrive at heretical conclusions.


“Esau ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and he kissed him, and they then wept.” Bereishit 33:4

He kissed him – There are dots over the word, “VaYishokehu” – he kissed him. Our Sages debate their significance. Some suggest that they indicate that Esau’s kisses, although appearing heartfelt and genuine, were actually insincerely intended. Others posit that although Esau’s hatred toward Jacob is immutable, in this instance, he was overcome with mercy and kissed Jacob genuinely. – Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105)
They then wept – Both of them wept. This teaches that not only did Esau feel deeply for Jacob at that moment, but also that Jacob reciprocated those feelings toward Esau. This was a sign for all generations that when Esau’s descendants will lay aside their animosity toward the offspring of Jacob and seek to learn from our G-dly ways, we may lay aside our misgivings and forge a true friendship. An example of this occurring was the friendship of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, a descendant of Jacob, and Marcus Arelius Antoninus, the Roman Curator and descendant of Esau. Together, they studied Torah through the night, and peace reigned throughout Israel. – HeEmek Davar

What were they crying about? Chasam Sofer suggests that each was crying over his personal spiritual challenge. Jacob wondered how he would continue to overcome so formidable a foe as the Satan, represented by the wicked Esau. Esau, on the other hand, saw Jacob and the spiritual heights he had climbed, and cried over the fact that he had neglected to do so himself. He shed bitter tears over the years of his life that he had wasted on empty pursuits. Bitter tears however, are not sufficient. One must commit to effect real change, and Esau was unwilling to do anything of the sort.


“He [Esau] raised his eyes and saw the women and children and he said, ‘Who are these to you?’ He [Jacob] answered: ‘These are the children whom G-d has graciously granted your servant.’” Bereishit 33:5

These are the children – Although Esau asked about the women and the children, Jacob only answered him regarding the children because it was inappropriate for Esau to discuss the women. – Ramban

Who are these to you – Esau wondered why Jacob, who was always considered a chaste and untainted soul, would marry so many women. To this, Jacob responded that it was all for the children. His interests lay not in pursuing hedonistic pleasures, but in building generations of worthy individuals who would serve G-d. – Malbim

The Midrash relates that until Esau saw Jacob with his large family and considerable wealth, he was overly incensed by the loss of the blessings. After all, he and Jacob had reached somewhat of an agreement wherein Jacob would focus on attaining the World to Come, and he would place his focus on attaining as much material success as he could during his life on earth. When he saw Jacob’s uncommon earthly success, however, he grew infuriated and demanded to know how Jacob could justify it if his emphasis was supposed to be on attaining a worthy share in the World to Come. Jacob responded that he had not done anything at all to amass it. Rather, it was all from the Almighty, Who had “graciously given him” this bounty, and there was no reason for Esau to suspect him of engaging in material pursuits. When Esau perceived that Jacob would still have his monumental share in the World to Come, in addition to the material wealth he enjoyed in this world, he began to suspect that he had made a poor choice by settling for this world and forgoing the World to Come. Spiritual pursuits do not preclude the possibility of material success by any means.


“Jacob arrived whole [i.e. safely] at the city of Shechem, that is in the Land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram. He encamped before the city.” Bereishit 33:18

Jacob Arrived Whole – Whole in body, for he was healed from his lameness. Whole in his possessions, for he was not lacking anything despite the massive gift that was given to Esau. Whole in his Torah knowledge, for he did not forget his learning at Laban’s house. – Rashi

Jacob Arrived Whole – The Hebrew word for “Whole” is “Shalem,” which is comprised of the letters Shin, Lamed, Mem. These letters correspond to “Shem” [name], “Lashon” [language], “Malbush” [clothing] – the three areas in which a Jew must stand out from the crowd. Our names, language, and form of dress, must be distinctive from our surroundings to assist us in recalling our special role in this world. – Chasam Sofer

Jacob’s story is a phenomenal example of the power of faith and devotion to G-d, and the immense benefits they accrue. By all accounts, he should have been dead, or dispirited and impoverished, at best. Laban and Esau were intent on destroying him and possessed the means to do so, yet he emerged from their presence healthier, wealthier, and wiser, with a beautiful family of exceedingly righteous children. The root source of his success was his steadfast adherence to the principles of Torah and monotheism that he absorbed from his parents and grandparents.


“G-d again appeared to Jacob when he came from Padan Aram, and He blessed him. G-d said to him. ‘Your name is Jacob. No longer will your name be Jacob, but Israel will be your name,’ and He called him Israel.” Bereishit 35:9,10

No longer will your name be Jacob – Which is a term denoting a person who comes in ambush and deceit, but, rather Israel, a term denoting a chief and a leader. – Rashi

At the close of his battle with the Angel of Esau, the angel was forced to concede that Jacob was the rightful heir to the blessings and that they were not merely strong-armed away from Esau. Changing his name to Israel which denotes naturally derived leadership reflected that fact. – Ta”z Al HaTorah

Your name is Jacob — Although Abraham too, underwent a name—change, his old name was removed permanently, never to be used again, whereas Jacob would still be called Jacob, in addition to his new name Israel. This is alluded to by words with which G-d began the conversation, “Your name is Jacob,” which otherwise serve no useful purpose if not to tell him that his name will still be Jacob even after the addition of the name Israel.

The name Jacob derives from his earlier battle with Esau over who would emerge from the womb first. Israel is a name that better reflects his position as the father of the Jewish nation. Perhaps the retention of his old name is a symbol that his job of overcoming Esau was not yet complete and would have to be continued even though he was now expected to build a holy nation as well. Indeed, scripture tells us that G-d swore that His throne will not be complete until the highly toxic progeny of Esau, known as Amalek, would be thoroughly eradicated from the world.

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Hey, I Never Knew That


Jacob heard that his brother Esau was approaching with 400 men. The verse states that “Jacob was very afraid and worried…” (Bereishit 32:8).  Rashi explains that he was afraid that he would be killed, and he was worried that he would have to kill. The Maharal commentary (Gur Aryeh, ad loc) asks why he was worried about killing; after all, his brother Esau had vowed to kill him and was approaching with 400 (presumably) armed men, so surely killing would be justified as self-defense. Maharal explains that if any of those 400 men was in fact not a threat, and really had no intention of hurting Jacob, even though he would be a priori allowed to kill in self-defense out of the doubt of danger to himself and his family, he nevertheless would require atonement ex post facto. Maharal maintains that with interactions with other people, even if we are well-meaning, and even if we act completely within our legal rights, if we nevertheless cause an innocent person to suffer, we must seek forgiveness and atonement.


“And these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the people of Israel” (Bereishit 36:31-39).

This is the introductory verse to a list of eight Canaanite kings who ruled the Land of Israel. The list interrupts a listing of the descendants of Esau, and does not seem to contribute anything meaningful either historically or morally. However, the Zohar (ad loc.) understands the list of kings as a symbolic representation of various Divine attributes (sefirot) and their interactions with the world. Some of the deepest and most esoteric parts of the Kabbalah are commentaries on these nine verses. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai once lamented the fact that most people are completely unaware of the hidden depths in every sentence, word, and even letter of the Torah (Commentary of Rekanati, Bereishit ad loc.).

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Word of the Week


גיד הנשה – gid hanasheh – sinew of the vein

Jacob fought an angel and was given the name Israel. Because the angel touched his thigh and caused him to limp, the Torah writes, “Therefore the people of Israel do not eat the גיד הנשה — gid hanasheh — sinew of the vein, which is in the hollow of the thigh, to this day; because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the vein” (Bereishit 32:33). Gid hanasheh is usually translated assinew of the thigh,” but in fact the גיד — gid is not a sinew at all. According to Jewish law, the prohibited part of the animal is actually the sciatic nerve, a major nerve running down both thighs of the animal. The Biblical Hebrew term gid means any string-like part of the body and can be a sinew, nerve, artery or vein.


And these are אלופי  alufei of the sons of Esau…. אלוף — aluf Teiman…” (Bereishit 36:15) Onkelos translates אלוף as great ones or leaders. Nachmanides (ibid 36:40) maintains that aluf means a de facto king, but one who lacks the trappings of a true king, such as a crown and throne. This idea is based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) that calls the aluf of Esau “a king without a crown.”  Rashi and Ibn Ezra understand the term as something like a duke, who rules a small territory under the rule of a king. In Modern Hebrew, the word means either a champion or a general.

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Dear Rabbi

“And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-Aram, and pitched his tent before the city” (Bereishit 33:18).

Rashi (ad loc.) explains this verse differently and translates “shalem” as complete, or whole, not as a place name. Rashi states that Jacob returned “whole physically, financially, and also in his fulfillment of the Torah.”

In the 19th century in Russia, it was common for the government to forcefully conscript Jewish children into the army and to release them only when they were adults. Once, the son of a wealthy man was taken to the army, after which his father pledged a huge amount of money to a yeshivah on condition that his son return “whole” from the army. Years later, the son returned, physically healthy but no longer observing the Torah. The yeshivah claimed that the father’s intent had been fulfilled by his son returning physically intact. The father said that his intention was that his son should return “whole” in every way. The Rabbinic court cited Rashi as showing that “whole” does not only mean physically intact, but also means spiritually intact, and therefore since the son no longer observed the Torah, the condition of the father’s donation was not fulfilled and he was exempt from his pledge (heard from Rabbi Isaac Bernstein).



A child whose parents were divorced was brought to circumcision by his mother’s father without the knowledge of the child’s father, and was also named by the mother without the father’s knowledge. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked if the circumcision and naming were valid (Igrot MosheYoreh Deah3:97). He responded that although it is a serious sin to deprive the father of the mitzvah of circumcising his son, which is primarily the father’s obligation, nevertheless the circumcision is valid. Regarding the name, he maintains that the mother certainly has the right to name her son, providing that she identifies the father in the naming. However, the father has the right to give him another name that he sees fit, and the child can be known by either or both names. One of the proof texts that Rabbi Feinstein cites is in the Torah portion this week, where it says, “And it came to pass, as [Rachel’s] soul was departing, for she died, that she called his name Ben Oni; but his father called him Benjamin” (Bereishit 35:18).

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Parsha at a Glance

When Jacob sent messengers to meet Esau, he discovered that his brother was coming to wage war against him. Jacob divided the people and possessions into two camps, so that if one was to be defeated, the other would survive. He then prayed to G-d to save him, reminding Him of the covenant He had made with Abraham.  Jacob prepared a gift to appease his brother. (Note the three tactics: preparation for war, prayer, and bribery.)

Jacob fought with an angel until the break of dawn. His hip was wounded in the battle. The angel blessed him.

Jacob, with his wives, children, and handmaids, greeted Esau, who came with an army of four hundred men. Esau kissed his brother (with questionable intent- see Talking Points).

Jacob departed for Succot, where he built himself a house and a shelter for his livestock. He then arrived at the city of Shechem and set up an altar there.

Shechem, the prince of the land, forcibly took Dinah, the daughter of Leah and wanted to marry her. Chamor, his father, favored this intermarriage and confronted Dinah’s brothers, the sons of Jacob, regarding their position. They responded that this would only be possible if all of Shechem converted and the males circumcised to become part of the Jewish people. The men of Shechem agreed and thus were circumcised.

Simon and Levi, two of Jacob’s sons, killed every man of the city of Shechem, including Chamor and his son Shechem. They took all that remained. Jacob rebuked them for their act, but they responded that they were protecting their sister’s dignity.

G-d instructed Jacob to make an altar for Him at Beth-El. Jacob took his household with him. The people of the surrounding cities did not attack them, because they sensed that G-d was with them. Jacob established the altar in Beth-El. The Torah describes the death of Devorah, Rebecca’s nurse, but only alludes to the death of Rebecca herself.

G-d changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and reassured him that his descendants would inherit the land.

On their journey from Beth-El, Rachel went into labor. She gave birth to a son, whom she named Ben Oni (the son of my mourning) – as she died in childbirth. Jacob changed his son’s name to Benjamin (the son of my right hand). Rachel was buried in Beit Lechem.

Reuben lay with Bilhah, his father’s maidservant, and Israel (Jacob) heard.

Jacob arrived at Mamre (Kiryat Arbah) and reunited with his father, Isaac, after being apart for thirty-six years. Isaac died at the age of 180, and Esau and Jacob buried him.

The Torah states that the descendant of Esau is Edom, and proceeds to list the genealogy, as well as the Edomite kings.

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