This week’s Torah portion is entitled Vayishlach, meaning “And He Sent”. It covers Genesis 32-36. As it opens, Adonai instructs Jacob to return home to Canaan. Because of his previous deception, Jacob is concerned that his brother Esau will take revenge and kill him. Jacob sends messengers to Esau with a message of peace, but the messengers come back saying that Esau is coming towards Jacob with an army of four hundred men.
In preparation for the meeting, Jacob divides his clan into two camps, so at least some will survive in case of a fight. He then prays to Adonai and sends Esau a large amount of cattle and sheep as a gift.
That night Jacob helps his family cross the Jabbok River. After the last child and animal has crossed, Jacob stays behind. He sleeps alone in the desert and is startled out of his sleep by a stranger. “A man” – that’s all we’re told about him initially, appears out of nowhere and starts wrestling with Jacob – a wrestling match that would continue until sunrise. They end up in a stalemate, so the “man” touches Jacob’s hip socket, and dislocates it. But Jacob holds on and refuses to let go without first receiving a blessing. The mysterious man asks him his name and upon hearing it, tells Jacob that going forward, his new name will be Israel, which means “He Strives or Struggles with God”.
The fact that He had the authority, both to bless Jacob and to change his name, and the fact that Jacob promptly re-named that place Peniel which literally means “Face of God,” shows that this was no mere human Jacob encountered. Scholars believe this was an example of a Christophany which is a pre-incarnation appearance of Messiah Yeshua.
The next morning Israel walked (actually limped) away, in some ways a new man. He had a new name, and probably a new outlook on life. When you wrestle in prayer with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and yield to His will, it gives you an eternal perspective, making your circumstances seem a lot less intimidating.
In chapter 33, Jacob and Esau are reunited and there are no hard feelings. In fact, Esau is impressed, if somewhat puzzled, by all the gifts that Jacob sent ahead. He politely declines the gifts, but Jacob insists. Their reunion is brief, and Jacob returns to Canaan, settling in the vicinity of Shechem.
Chapter 34 records the slaughter of all the men of the city of Shechem by Shimon and Levi, in retaliation for the rape of their sister Dinah. The Scriptures are honest records of Israel’s history, both good and bad. The slaughter of the men of Shechem forced Israel and the family to leave the area, and because of this heinous act, Shimon and Levi would later forfeit their patriarchal blessing.
In chapter 35, Adonai instructs Jacob to return and dwell in Bethel. Adonai appears to him there again and reaffirms His promise to give him and his descendants the land and the blessings given to Abraham. Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin, and Jacob buries her in Bethlehem Efrat. I find it Interesting that the same town which held grief also yielded the greatest hope the world has ever known; for in Bethlehem Efrat was born the Redeemer of all mankind, Yeshua, the Messiah.
Chapter 35 also records the immoral actions of Reuben with Bilhah, Israel’s concubine, which would later disqualify Reuben from receiving the patriarchal blessing. We also read of the reuniting of Jacob with his father Isaac, and of Isaac’s death at age 180. Jacob and Esau come together one last time to bury their father, and then part ways.
Unfortunately, Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, would eventually become bitter adversaries of the Jewish people. The parasha closes with the summary of Esau’s descendants in chapter 36.
I feel we are meant to recognize in this parasha the need to individually cultivate a relationship with God. Our sinful natures lead inevitably to conflict. But with a heavenly perspective, we can be reconciled, and fulfill Adonai’s purposes for us. There is a noticeable change in tone of Jacob’s prayers throughout his life, as he learns to trust God. He needed to cultivate a relationship with God of his own, not merely as the son of Isaac or the grandson of Abraham. It must be the same with us. God must become your God! Yeshua the Savior must become your Savior.
A few closing thoughts:
Because sin abounds in the world, we often fail to trust one another. Jacob’s deception made it necessary for him to flee from Esau, leaving his parents’ home, and setting off for Haran to stay with his relatives; only later to be deceived by his uncle Laban. But God brought good out of these circumstances. As Roman’s 8:28 references: “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose”. From Jacob’s two wives and two concubines came the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jacob’s life shows us that we may go through many trials and difficulties, but through tenacity and prayer, with God’s help we can overcome it all.
Yeshua told us that in this life we will have troubles, but we can have hope and be of good cheer for He has overcome the world, Satan, Sin, and Death. Even today, Jacob’s descendants still struggle with this Divine Man who is Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah). Please pray that the Jewish people, as a community, will soon come to know Yeshua as their Lord and Redeemer, encountering Him in a deeply personal way, and receiving their full inheritance of eternal life through faith by grace and trust in the eternal salvation of our Lord Messiah.