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Vayishlach Summaries

Vayishlach 5780-2019

“The Massacre of Shechem, Can it be Justified?”
(Updated and revised from Vayishlach 5760-1999)

The rabbis are challenged deeply by the rape of Dina and the subsequent massacre of the men of Shechem by Simeon and Levi. They try valiantly to explain why Dinah was fated to suffer so horribly. They also debate whether the actions of Simeon and Levi can in any way be justified.

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Vayishlach 5779-2018

“Jacob’s Challenging Life”

Our Patriarch Jacob, lived a life of many challenges. Yet, he never gave up hope and never became bitter. There is much to learn from father Jacob about facing and living with overwhelming adversity.

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Vayishlach 5778-2017

“The Tragic Death of Mother Rachel”

While the Torah does not provide a single reason for the Matriarch Rachel passing away at the young age of 36, the commentators suggest a host of answers for her tragic premature demise.

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Vayishlach 5777-2016

“Esau and Jacob Embrace and Kiss: Sincere or Insincere?”

After more than two decades of separation, Esau and Jacob meet and embrace. Is the reunion a true reconciliation or a temporary respite in the hatred that is deeply ingrained?

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Vayishlach 5776-2015

“Jacob Tarries in Succot”

Jacob had taken an oath to return to his family home in Canaan. And yet, for reasons unknown, Jacob tarries for years in Succot and Shechem before returning home.

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Vayishlach 5775-2014

“She Called His Name ‘Ben Oni’”

As Rachel’s life ebbs from her during the birth of her second son, she calls the child “Ben Oni.” Jacob rejects the name, and calls the child “Binyamin.” What is the difference in the meanings of the names?

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Vayishlach 5774-2013

“The Death of Deborah, Rebecca’s Nurse”

The report of the death of Deborah, Rebecca’s nursemaid, is a source of contention among the commentators.

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Vayishlach 5773-2012

Gid Ha’nasheh: The Sinew of the Thigh”

Why are Jews forbidden to eat “Gid Ha’nasheh,” the sinew of the thigh?

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Vayishlach 5772-2011

“Jacob Lines Up His Family for the Encounter With Esau”

In parashat Vayishlach, in anticipation of his dreaded encounter with his brother Esau, Jacob strategically lines up his family to assure their safety. It seems as if Jacob is prepared to sacrifice the handmaidens and their children in order for the children of Rachel and Leah to be spared. Could this possibly be true?

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Vayishlach 5771-2010

“The Power of a Vow”

After 22 years, Jacob returns to Beth-El, the scene of his memorable “ladder” dream, where he had vowed (Genesis 28:20-22), that Beth-El would become the site of G-d’s house. Many commentators are troubled by Jacob’s failure to discharge his obligation, or to even acknowledge his commitment.

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Vayishlach 5770-2009

“The Rape of Dinah: Impossible to Fathom!””

Shortly after arriving in the city of Shechem, Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, goes out to see the girls of the land and is brutally abducted and raped by the leader of the city, whose name is Shechem. Can the rape of Dinah be explained in any way?

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Vayishlach 5769-2008

“What’s in a Name?”

First an angel informs Jacob that his name has been changed to Yisrael, then the Al-mighty Himself formally announces the name change. Why is Abraham’s name change permanent, while Jacob’s is not?

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Vayishlach 5768-2007

“The Birth of Benjamin, The Death of Rachel”

Jacob and his family are finally at the point in their lives where they can celebrate their return to Canaan and look forward to dwelling in peace. Rachel gives birth to a second son on the road to Efrat. Before she dies in childbirth, the baby is born and she names the child “Ben Oni.” For the first time, Jacob takes part in the naming of one of his twelve sons, renaming the child Benjamin. What are the implications of the change in names?

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Vayishlach 5767-2006

“The Lonely Patriarch”

Before the fateful encounter between Jacob and Esau, scripture notes that Jacob remained alone. What is the cause of Jacob’s aloneness, and what is the meaning of Jacob’s loneliness for Jacob and for future generations?

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Vayishlach 5766-2005

“When a Jew Comes to the City”

The arrival of a tribal family to an established culture, is always a challenging experience for the newcomers. When Jacob and his family arrive in Shechem, there are many adjustments that need to be made, both on the part of the new Jewish inhabitants and the native non-Jewish residents.

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Vayishlach 5765-2004

“The Encounter”

The encounter between Jacob and Esau is often seen as a metaphor of the battle between Judaism and Rome (pagan or secular values). The battle may also be within the Jews themselves–to maintain the correct and valid interpretations of Torah and tradition.

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Vayishlach 5764-2003

“Who Was Esau?”

It’s hard to imagine why there is an entire chapter of the Torah dedicated to the genealogy of the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s wicked brother. Yet, a remarkable lesson is to be learned from this seemingly out-of-place chapter. Through the hints that are found in the text, a people is better understood, their way of life elucidated, and as a result, the worthiness of the nation of Jacob, that is the people of Israel, is underscored.

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Vayishlach 5763-2002

“We Can Forgive the Arabs for Killing Our Children…”

As we delve into the study of Torah, we often find that seemingly insignificant verses in the Torah contain revolutionary insights about life. In 1972, Golda Meir made a widely acclaimed statement: We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but we can not forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. Who would ever imagine that our commentaries find a similar message in parashat Vayishlach?

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Vayishlach 5762-2001

“Yisrael: The People Who Wrestle With G-d”

It wasn’t only Jacob who wrestled with the angel of Esau and whose name was changed to Israel, because he “wrestled with man and with G-d and prevailed.” In fact, all of the Jewish people are “wrestlers.” A Jew is a person who is in constant tension with himself and with his environment, always looking to improve himself, to perfect society, striving to work out his/her relationship with G-d to make it more profound and more meaningful.

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Vayishlach 5761-2000

“The Proper and Improper Use of Zealotry”

We read of the very painful and distressing story of the rape of Dinah, by the ruler of Shechem. Employing subterfuge in order to avenge the attack on their sister, Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, demand that the men of the city be circumcised if they want to marry any Jewish women. While recovering from their surgery, the men are attacked by the sons of Jacob and killed. Jacob condemns Simeon and Levi for their violence and never seems to forgive them until the day of his death. However, the tribe of Simeon seems to bear that condemnation forever, whereas the tribe of Levi becomes the spiritual leader of Israel. Why their different fates?

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Vayishlach 5760-1999

“The Massacre of Shechem: Can it be justified?”

The rabbis have a hard time with the rape of Dinah and the massacre of the men of Shechem. They try valiantly to explain why Dinah was fated to suffer so horribly. They also debate whether the actions of Simeon and Levi can in any way be justified.

Link to full version