Torah Portion

Vayishlach

וישלח

Genesis 32:4-36:43
Hosea 11:7–12:12

Jacob’s Struggle at Jabbok: The Limits of Strategy

Jacob’s Struggle at Jabbok: The Limits of Strategy

Jacob makes a series of strategic preparations in anticipation of meeting his estranged brother Esau. Instead of the expected confrontation, we get a totally unexpected, unanticipated, and unprepared for wrestling between Jacob and a mysterious stranger at the ford of Jabbok. By juxtaposing these two accounts, the narrative invites us to think about both the human impulse to control and its limitations.

Prof.
Meira Z. Kensky
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Anah Found Hayemim in the Wilderness: A Hidden Critique of Jacob’s Family

Anah Found Hayemim in the Wilderness: A Hidden Critique of Jacob’s Family

Genesis 36 references a story about Anah, the grandson of Seir the Horite and the father-in-law of Esau, who found הימם “Hayemim” while grazing his father's donkeys in the wilderness. What does this mean and why is this story in the Torah?

Rabbi
Shmuel Klitsner
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Did Jacob and Esau Reconcile?

Did Jacob and Esau Reconcile?

Upon meeting again after twenty years, Esau approaches his brother with a buoyant spirit and a warm embrace. Jacob, however, is formal and submissive. Why doesn’t he reciprocate Esau’s overtures?

Prof.
George Savran
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If Jacob Is Returning to Canaan, Why Send Messengers to Esau in Seir?

If Jacob Is Returning to Canaan, Why Send Messengers to Esau in Seir?

Traditional commentators have grappled with why Jacob risks Esau’s wrath by sending him a message that he is on his way. Understanding the history of the text shows that in an older version of this story, Jacob had no choice: he was heading to his parents’ home in the Seir region.

Dr.
David Ben-Gad HaCohen
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Edomite Kings List: Is It Post-Mosaic?

Edomite Kings List: Is It Post-Mosaic?

Genesis 36:31 introduces a list of kings who ruled “before a king ruled in Israel,” ostensibly a reference to Saul. Traditional commentators, committed to the Mosaic authorship of the Torah, have long struggled to reinterpret this phrase against its plain meaning, though some accepted its implications.

Dr. Rabbi
Zev Farber
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Rachel Weeps in Ramah: Of All the Patriarchs, God Listens Only to Her

Rachel Weeps in Ramah: Of All the Patriarchs, God Listens Only to Her

Rachel weeps over her exiled descendants and God hears her plea (Jer 31:14–16). Expanding on this passage, the rabbis in Midrash Eichah Rabbah envision Jeremiah awakening the patriarchs and Moses to plead with God to have mercy on Israel. Upon their failure to move God, the matriarch Rachel intervenes successfully.

Prof.
Hagith Sivan
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Jacob’s Journey to Mahanaim and Penuel in J and E

Jacob’s Journey to Mahanaim and Penuel in J and E

The merging of two different accounts of Jacob’s return home is reflected in the double etymologies for Mahanaim and Penuel. Why do both sources have Jacob pass through these two cities one after the other? The answer lies in geography.

Dr.
David Ben-Gad HaCohen
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Who Is the Victim in the Dinah Story?

Who Is the Victim in the Dinah Story?

We cannot imagine anyone but Dinah as the victim, but does the Torah? Do the Rabbis? Understanding the story of Dinah and its reception in historical context can help us reflect on the role of women in ancient Israel and the meaning of sexual violence in a patriarchal society.

Dr.
Alison L. Joseph
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The Debasement of Dinah

The Debasement of Dinah

Is the Torah concerned about Dinah's consent? Why is Dinah not given a voice in the story?

Prof.
Shawna Dolansky
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“Esau Hates Jacob” - But Is Antisemitism a Halakha?

“Esau Hates Jacob” - But Is Antisemitism a Halakha?

Esau’s plan to kill Jacob and his “dotted” kiss upon their reunion has been cited by rabbinic authorities, such as Rav Moshe Feinstein, as evidence that antisemitism is inherent. This idea is not found in the Torah or the Talmud.

Prof. Rabbi
Marty Lockshin
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Jacob Is Renamed Israel (Twice): Why Does the Name Jacob Remain?

Jacob Is Renamed Israel (Twice): Why Does the Name Jacob Remain?

The different usages of the names Jacob and Israel reflect a geographic divide between the northern and southern kingdoms’ stance toward this patriarch.

Dr. Rabbi
Tzemah Yoreh
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The Rape of Dinah, Added as a Motive for the Sack of Shechem

The Rape of Dinah, Added as a Motive for the Sack of Shechem

Originally the sons of Jacob saw the interest Shechem took in marrying their sister as an opportunity to plunder Shechem. A later editor, uncomfortable with this story, blamed the carnage on Simeon and Levi, and added the rape of Dinah as a motivation for their actions.

Prof. Rabbi
David Frankel
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The Dinah Story: A Missed Opportunity for Intermarriage and Conversion

The Dinah Story: A Missed Opportunity for Intermarriage and Conversion

An intertextual reading of the Dinah story highlights how it polemicizes against marriage with non-Israelites, even those willing to take on Israelite practices. Some rabbinic counter-readings of the text, however, express a more positive notion of incorporating converts to Judaism into the community.

Naomi Graetz
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Why Is Esau’s Kiss Dotted?

Why Is Esau’s Kiss Dotted?

Esau’s kiss to Jacob is written with scribal dots over the word וַׄיִּׄשָּׁׄקֵ֑ׄהׄוּׄ, “and he kissed him.” Traditional commentators suggest this hints to Esau’s feelings or state of mind. Critical scholarship, however, points to something much more prosaic, a question of syntax.

Prof.
Albert I. Baumgarten
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A 12th Century Derasha on Parashat Vayishlach: Reconstructing the Speaker’s Notes

A 12th Century Derasha on Parashat Vayishlach: Reconstructing the Speaker’s Notes

“God Seeks the Pursued”: A Midrashic text from the genizah compares Esau’s Pursuit of Jacob with Saul’s pursuit of David using a panoply of biblical verses and mishnaic halakhot.

Dr.
Moshe Lavee
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Dr.
Oded Rosenblum
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Dr.
Shana Strauch-Schick
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Vayishlach

וישלח

Genesis 32:4-36:43

וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי־שָׂרִיתָ עִם אֱלֹהִים וְעִם אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל׃

בראשית לב:כט

Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”

Gen 32:29

Genesis

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