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Parashat Vayishlach - Quick Summary

Weekly Torah Reading

Parashat Vayishlach ("and he sent")

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(audio summary)




Brit Chadashah


Genesis 32:3-36:43

Obadiah 1:1-21

Heb. 11:11-20;
Matt. 26:36-46

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Torah Reading Snapshot:

Last week's parashah (Vayetzei) told how Jacob escaped his brother Esau's wrath by fleeing to his relatives in Haran. On his way there, God appeared to him in a dream of a ladder (סֻלָּם) reaching from the ground to the sky, with the angels of God climbing up and down, and there renewed the covenant of Abraham with him.  However, after arriving in Haran and agreeing to work as Laban's hired hand for seven years to marry his daughter Rachel, his uncle tricked him into marrying his older daughter Leah first, and then demanded that he work seven more years to earn the right to Rachel's hand.

Chagall  detail - Angel

Audio Overview

The two sisters (and their handmaidens) vied for Jacob's love by giving birth to his eleven sons (and one daughter). Meanwhile Jacob worked another six years to earn his own livestock, but finally fled from Laban back to Canaan after living through twenty years of his uncle's oppression and deception.

This week's parashah begins with Jacob sending messengers to his estranged brother Esau in the land of Edom in hope of reconciliation:

Genesis 32:3[4h] (BHS)

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother
unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom. (Gen. 32:3[4h])

The messengers returned from their meeting with Esau and told Jacob that his twin brother was on his way to meet him with 400 armed men. Jacob became afraid that Esau would try to carry out his previous intention of killing him, and therefore divided his family and possessions into two camps (so that one could escape if the other was attacked). He then humbly prayed to the LORD for deliverance, showing genuine teshuvah (repentance) from his earlier practices as a supplanter and deceiver (apparently the 20 years of oppression by his uncle Laban taught him what it was like to be on the other end of such trickery from a family member).  Jacob then decided to send a succession of valuable gifts to his alienated brother in an attempt to appease him before they were to meet.

Jacob wrestles with God

That night, Jacob took his family and possessions across the Jabbok River, but he remained behind and was left alone. And "a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day." Some Jewish sages claim this was Esau's guardian angel, though that is unlikely, since this "man" is later identified as Malakh Adonai (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה), the Angel of YHVH (Gen. 32:30).

During the "grappling" (recall the meaning of Jacob's name), the Angel injured Jacob's thigh, but Jacob refused to release his hold until he received the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה). The LORD then asked him, "What is your name (מַה־שְּׁמֶךָ)?"  And he said, "Jacob" (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב). The Angel then declared, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov ("heel holder" [of Esau]) but Yisrael ("contender with God"), for as a prince (i.e., sar: שַׂר) you have contended (i.e., sarita: שָׂרִיתָ) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28).


After Jacob (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב) was renamed Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), he asked the Angel for His Name, but was denied, since the Name is unutterable - even to one who had prevailed with God. Jacob then called the name of the place "the face of God" (i.e., Peniel: פְּנִיאֵל), saying "I have seen God face to face (i.e., panim el panim: פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) and yet my life has been spared" (Gen. 32:30).

Later that morning, when Jacob saw Esau and his gang approaching, he placed each of his children in front of the child's respective mother: First the handmaidens and their four children; then Leah and her seven children; and finally Rachel with her only son Joseph (in the safest position).  Jacob then went ahead of the entire family and bowed down seven times as he approached his twin brother. Miraculously, Esau ran to Jacob, embraced him, and they wept together. Jacob then introduced his wives and children.

Esau then asked about all the gifts that were sent to him, and told Jacob he didn't need them, but Jacob insisted that he keep them, "for I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me" (an oblique reference to his experience of "God wrestling" at Peniel the previous night).

Esau invited Jacob to live with him in Seir (in Edom), but he was still apparently distrustful of his brother and decided to move south to Sukkot, outside the city of Shechem. There he purchased some land from the sons of Shechem and built an altar to "God, the God of Israel" (i.e., El Elohei Yisrael: אֵל אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל). After settling into the land, Jacob's only daughter Dinah decided to visit some of the local women but was abducted and raped by the crown prince of the city.  After Jacob and his sons learned of the incident, the prince's father (Hamor) appealed for Dinah's hand in marriage to his son, and suggested that Jacob and his family intermarry with their family and enjoy the fruit of the land together.

Outraged by the violation of their sister, Jacob's sons devised a plan of revenge by feigning agreement with their plan - but stipulated that all the males of the city must undergo ritual circumcision (brit milah) in order for intermarriages to be acceptable. King Hamor and his son agreed to the terms and convinced the men of the city to undergo the circumcision ritual.  But on the third day, when the men were in their most debilitated condition, Simon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, entered the town and executed all the men there, and the other brothers came and despoiled the city, taking all the livestock and wealth, and making slaves of the women and children.

After the destruction of Shechem, God commanded Jacob to return to Bethel (the place of his earlier vision and the place of his vow), where he built another altar to the LORD (Gen. 28:22; 35:1-7). God then (again) renamed him Israel and renewed His promise to give Canaan to his descendants.

Jacob then left Bethel to return to his hometown of Hebron (Chevron), but on the way Rachel died while giving birth to Jacob's twelfth son Benjamin ("son of the right hand") and was buried beside the road to Bet Lechem (Bethlehem).  [The Jewish sages say that Jacob chose this site because he foresaw his descendants passing it on the road to the Babylonian exile, and Rachel would "weep for her children." Jacob's monument to Rachel is known as 'Kever (the Tomb of) Rachel'.]

Jacob then moved on and set up camp beyond the tower of Eder. It was here that Reuben, his firstborn son, slept with Rachel's handmaiden (and the mother of Dan and Naphtali from his father Jacob). [This would cost him his bechor status of Israel.]

The parashah then lists the names of the 12 sons (shevatim) of Israel:







Reuben; "See, a son!"




Simeon; "hearing" or "heard"




Levi; "joined to" or "attached"




Judah; "praised"




Dan; "a judge"




Naphtali; "wrestling"




Gad; "troop," "company"




Asher; "happy"




Issachar; "there is recompense"




Zebulon; "exalted," "honored"




Joseph; "may he add"




Benjamin; "son of the right hand"


Jacob's 12 Sons

Jacob finally made it back home to Hebron (Chevron), where he was reunited with his 180- year-old father Isaac (his mother Rebekah had already died before his arrival).  Some time later, Isaac died and was buried by Jacob and Esau. Since there wasn't enough room for the twins to live together in the land, Esau decided to permanently settle in Mount Seir (in land of Edom), a land which he and his descendants inhabited for many years to come. The portion concludes with a genealogy of Esau, his wives, children and grandchildren, and the family histories of the people of Seir among whom Esau settled.

Haftarah Reading Snapshot:

The Sages choose the entire book of Obadiah as the Haftarah for Parashat Vayishlach because of their allegorical interpretation concerning the sons of Jacob and Esau. To these rabbis, the enmity between Jacob and Esau (Edom) was really about the conflict between the Jewish people and Edom's progenitors that became the nations that surrounded Israel in the Promised Land. 

Most likely, Obadiah served as prophecy against the original nation of Edom for joining up with the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 BC, but later it came to be regarded as a prophecy concerning the nation of Rome (and by extension, the entire secular world), the bitter enemy of Israel.  This attitude becomes triumphalist in the final verse of the book: "Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the LORD's" (Obadiah 1:21), implying that the rule of the LORD from Jerusalem will one day established upon the earth.

Brit Chadashah Snapshot:

The reading from the book of Hebrews reviews the story of the birth of Abraham's heir Isaac, and the prophetic offering of Isaac as a sacrifice on Moriah (called the Akedah). Despite this test, Abraham believed that God would keep His promise to make him the father of a multitude of peoples by raising his beloved son from the dead (a clear picture of the sacrifice and resurrection of Yeshua the Mashiach on our behalf).  Moreover, the reading tells us that Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob (instead of Esau) as the future progenitor of the Promised Seed of whom he was a type and shadow.

The reading from the gospel of Matthew concerns the passion of the Mashiach in the garden of Gethsemane. As Messianic believers, we understand the Akedah as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice the heavenly Father would give on our behalf. Unlike Abraham, God the Father actually offered His only Son in order to make salvation available to all who believe. As Abraham said, Elohim yireh-lo haseh ("God Himself will provide a lamb").


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Genesis 32

Genesis 33

Genesis 34

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Genesis 36


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