On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Torah Thought: Parsha Vayishlach

Last weeks Torah portion ends with Jacob’s clandestine escape from his Uncle Laban followed by Laban catching up with him and finally a peace treaty after some back forth.

In this week’s parsha, things go from bad to worse for Jacob. Here’s what happens this week:

1. Jacob prepares for his encounter with his brother Eisav who’s coming to meet him. Normally when brothers see each other for the first time in many years, its hugs and kisses. Considering that the last encounter they had together that the Torah tells us about is Jacob ran for his life after he used some trickery to take Eisav’s blessing from his father and Eisav wanted some payback. Since Eisav was known to be a warrior, Jacob was afraid.
2. As he’s preparing for Eisav, Jacob is attacked by a man, who the Rabbi’s tell us was really an angel and even though he was victorious, was wounded in the encounter.
3. After Jacob hides his daughter, Dina, in a trunk and his son Joseph protects his mother Rachel, Jacob survives his encounter with Eisav. (Some say that in the encounter, Eisav tried to pull a Dracula move and take a bite our of Jacob’s neck, but was stopped by heavenly protection)
4. After all of this, you would expect Jacob to finally get a break… think again. When Jacob and his family settle in the city of Shechem, his daughter Dina gets kidnapped and violated by the Prince of the land.
5. When Jacob’s sons here about what happened, instead of rescuing Dina and escaping, two of his sons, Shimon & Levi, decide to kill every man in the city. This scares Jacob, because now he’s afraid that neighboring cities will ban together and start a war with him.
6. Next… his mother Rebecca dies along with her nurse Deborah.
7. From worse to even worse, his primary wife Rachel dies in the childbirth of his youngest son Benjamin.
8. On a strange note, his oldest son Reuben either has an affair with or does something improper with Jacob’s wife Bilah. (Reuben’s mother was Leah, not Bilah)
9. Next… his father Isaac dies.

Wow… when I first got the idea to write about Jacob’s bad week, I didn’t even realize how bad this parsha was for him.

Just so you don’t think that this week’s Torah portion ends the troubles for Jacob… not quite. Next week’s portion details fighting between Jacob’s favorite son Joseph and most of his other sons and it eventually ends with them selling Joseph into slavery and telling Jacob that Joseph died… something which he never recovers from. In a couple weeks from now, in our time, and 22 years in the life of Jacob, he discovers Joseph is really alive, reunites the family and finally lives in peace.

This week I couldn’t stop asking myself: Why did Jacob had such a hard life? He’s considered to be the culmination of our forefathers so it didn’t make sense to me.

In scientific fashion, I thought about the parts of Jacob’s life that weren’t so hard with the hope that it would shed some light on the situation. They were his younger years before he fought with Eisav and had to flee and the final years of his life when he lived in Egypt with his remaining wives and all of his children and grandchildren.

A story in Talmud brought the answer home for me. It tells us that the Holy Temple was destroyed, because of baseless hatred among Jews. It also tells us that every generation that does not see the Temple rebuilt is as if they destroyed it which implies, we will not merit the Messiah until we counteract the baseless hatred with unconditional love for each other (Ahavis Yisroael).

Jacob’s troubles started when the fighting started between him and his brother. It continued with fighting between him and his Uncle, his wife Rachel with his wife Leah, and finally the sons of Leah fighting with the oldest son of Rachel. It wasn’t until all the fighting ceased that he could finally live in Shalom (peace).

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