Thoughts on Parashat Vayishlach

In this week’s parasha, the wanderer, the one who seemingly ran away from home, returns to his land and his father’s presence – and even more to his brother’s presence. But the title of this parasha is not “and he returned” Vayachzar but Vayishlach, “and he sent” Genesis 32.4 – 36.43.[i] The reason is quite simple, although Jacob was returning, the emphasis is put upon what he did to insure his and his family’s safe re-entry into the land promised through his father and grandfather. In last year’s Thoughts on Vayishlach I noted that Jacob seemed to work out Rav Shaul’s admonition, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people” (Romans 12.18), and that “as much as it depends on you” means anything you can do – pray, make use your own wisdom and knowledge, seek counsel and guidance from others, most anything (legal and ethical anyway) that is in your power to do, do it. This it seems is what Jacob was doing – exercising everything in his arsenal of lifetime experiences, trying to be at peace with his brother Esau.

As I began to prepare this week’s Thoughts, I came across another possible answer for Jacob’s actions. Professor Daniel Statman of Bar Ilan University cites Rabbi Yannai:

A person should never put himself in a position of danger and trust that a miracle will be wrought for him, lest a miracle not be done for him… Rabbi Hanin said: What verse substantiates this? “I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant” (Genesis 32.11). (B.T. Shabbat 32a)[ii]

He concludes this thought

…that a person must conduct himself in this world in accord with reality and in light of his assessment of its dangers and uncertainties, and not assume miraculous intervention by God. … The concept of miracles and the idea of Divine intervention in general do not override the use of human discretion in steering our way through the perils of life.[iii]

Looking back to Jacob, he had a promise of divine protection and guidance before he left (Genesis 28.15) and apparently a command with protective promise to return (Genesis 31.13). Still, he was not completely at peace with his return home, and his eventual encounter with Esau. Was this a lack of faith? While some might see it as so, I choose to see it as Jacob’s actions, not a matter of hedging his bets, rather he was simply doing all he could do and then trusting the LORD for the rest. John Wesley is attributed with saying

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”[iv]

It may be that Jacob’s preparations to meet Esau, even though he had the divine command from Hashem to return home, give us a true example of walking by faith. We do what we can do and trust the LORD to do the rest, or maybe even redirect our program.

The Haftarah is the book of Obadiah, all twenty-one verses. The main thrust of the book is the LORD’s judgment on Edom (Esau) because of Edom’s treatment of Israel when she was being disciplined by the LORD.

“Because of your violence to your brother Jacob, shame will cover you, and you will be cut off forever. … You should not look down on your brother on the day of his disaster, nor should you rejoice over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction.” (Obadiah .10 & .12)

It was not so much what Edom did, but the attitude in which it was performed. At the start of Obadiah’s vision, the LORD charges Edom, “The arrogance of your heart has deceived you…” (.3). Commenting on this, Abarbanel notes that thinking they were mighty and protected, Edom allowed themselves to be “seduced by the haughty feeling of your heart”[v] resulting in speaking proudly or arrogantly in the day of their (Israel’s) distress (.12) gloating over their misery (.13). The end result would be devastating for Edom, “there will be no survivors of the house of Esau – for ADONAI has spoken” (.18). If for no other reason, this should give us cause to guard not only our actions but the attitudes of our hearts.

The need to watch our attitudes as well as our actions is reinforced in the reading from the Apostolic Writings as suggested by the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible), 1 Corinthians 5.1-13. There was obvious sexual sin in the community of Yeshua-believers in Corinth, and instead of dealing with the situation, there were individuals who were actually, beyond common sense, proud of the situation and even boasting about it (5.2 & .6). Rav Shaul was understandably not pleased with the situation. “Don’t you know that a little hametz leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old hametz…” (5.6b & 7a). I suggest it was not only the moral sin that Rav Shaul was speaking about, but it was the attitude that allowed its continuance as well. In Mishlei we read, “Guard your heart diligently, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4.23) which Yeshua may have had in mind when He told the Pharisees and Torah scholars, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander” (Matthew 15.19). Yes, we must watch our actions, our behavior, and equally we must guard our hearts and attitudes so that we, like the Edomites, do not fall into temptation.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Frimer, Aryeh A., Editor-in-Chief. A Divinely Given Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume II. Ramat Gan, Bar-Ilan University, 2002-5763, p 121.

[iii] Ibid.


[v] Menachem Davis, ed., The Later Prophets: The Twelve Prophets, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2014, p 213.

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.