Jacob comes back to the land he left, and hears that Esau is coming out to meet him with 400 men. Frightened for his family, he splits the camp, sends them ahead and stays behind the Jabbok River that night by himself. That night he wrestles with an angel, who (in order to be released by Jacob, who has prevailed against the angel even after the angel damages his hip) gives Jacob the name “Israel” and blesses him. Jacob limps across the river, then decides to send gifts to Esau to appease him before the camp even gets close. As he gets closer, he sends his favorite wife and her child (Rachel and Joseph) to the very rear, then next closest is Leah and her children, and right behind Jacob are the handmaidens of his wives and their children. It is obvious that the least favored of his children’s mothers were to be closest so if Esau killed Jacob and the family, these would be next, and hopefully Esau’s anger would not reach all the way to the end to find Rebekah and Joseph. However, Jacob’s prayers are answered when Esau embraces and cries over reuniting with his brother, and that is about all the lovey-dovey they do. Esau goes back to his family and life in Seir, and Jacob ends up settling at that time in Shechem, in the land of Canaan.
In this land Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by the son of Hamor, the king of Shechem. After doing so, however, the prince falls for her and asks a bride price. The sons of Jacob (interesting that Jacob is not in this discussion) state that the men of the city, all the men, must be circumcised before Dinah can marry even one of them. Then when the men are recovering, Levi and Simeon attack the men, kill all the adult men and take the women, children and possessions as spoil. Jacob is enraged about this, and (reasonably) concerned for his welfare and that of all his family. God tells Jacob to get to Beth-el. Jacob sets up a standing stone there, an altar to God, and as they continue to travel towards Bethlehem, Rachel dies in childbirth as Benjamin in born. She is buried there, and they continue to Bethlehem. One other major event is that Reuben sleeps with his father’s concubine, and this is an affront for which he is not forgiven, even unto Israel’s dying blessing on him, and Reuben also loses the rights of the firstborn (which go to Joseph and his sons.)
The parashah ends with a brief review of the sons of Jacob, and then an entire chapter to cover the descendants of Esau. From this point forward we don’t really hear that much about Esau and his relationship to Jacob, and the storyline shifts starting with the next parashah further away from Jacob and into the life of Joseph.
I could write a book on this parashah: there is so much in the telling of the brotherly love-hate relationships we’ve seen so far in the bible. Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau: each set of brothers had strife between them. Cain and Abel strove over the acceptance of God, Ishmael and Isaac strove over the acceptance of Abraham, and Esau and Isaac strove over the rights of the firstborn. From God’s acceptance, to their fathers acceptance, to receiving the blessings for themself. We see the relationship deteriorate from between me and God (accepting my sacrifice), to me and Dad (Abraham sending Ishmael out on his own with no real inheritance), to pretty much me and me (Jacob and Esau struggling over the blessing and rights of the firstborn.) There’s plenty of juice in this orange we could squeeze out.
There’s also the changing of Jacob’s name, his wrestling not just with an angel, but with his (or mankind’s) desire to use deviousness over doing what is righteous. The name change is more than just that- The Chumash indicates that it represents a change in his entire viewpoint and actions from one of being the “supplanter” to one of being the “champion of God.” We see this change somewhat in how Jacob despises the deviousness of Levi and Simeon.
So, nu? With all this good stuff to talk about, what do I talk about? Actually, as I am writing this I am not sure. But I think I know where to go, and it isn’t from the storyline. It’s from the comments I read in the Chumash.
The “Rabbis” who contributed to the Chumash, even though they were learned and godly men in many ways, just had to find something deep and studious in the word of God. For instance, at the very beginning of this portion we are told that Rashi takes the term, “I have sojourned” to mean that Jacob is telling Esau that although he has become as rich as a prince, he really was never more than a humble wanderer, a sojourner, and that the blessing he received from Isaac saying Jacob would be greater than Esau has not been fulfilled, therefore Esau has no reason to be angry with Jacob. The Midrash states that the letters used in the word “גרתי” (sojourned) has the numerical value of 613, the exact number of commandments in the Torah, and it uses that to demonstrate that even though Jacob dwelt in a land that was not the one promised to him by God, he still remained subject to and obedient to the Torah- an exhortation to his descendants to do the same. Honestly, and with all due respect, to me that seems to be stretching it a bit; I mean, the Torah wasn’t even given to us yet.
Throughout the Chumash one can read many of these interpretations, and they do make sense in many ways, yet I was taught that you can’t make an argument from nothing. The fact that Hebrew letters have a numerical value and that it is part of interpreting the bible is valid- I have no problem with gimel (ג), or 8, representing a new beginning, 7 is completion, 3 is the godhead, and 4 for man and God. Yet, I can’t forget that old expression I learned when in banking: “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” If we look deep enough, and manipulate things enough, eventually you can get blood from a stone.
When we read the bible the best way to interpret it is to let God, who wrote it, tell you what it means. The way that is done is through the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. I do not, in any way, feel that what I am writing now is spirit-led. I think it is more my own feelings, and experiences, and not some divine revelation. Still, I think it is valid ( or I wouldn’t write it) and ask that you think it over for yourself. Whether I tell you something, or your Rabbi/Pastor/Priest/Minister/whatever tells you something, you need to verify it for yourself by asking God to tell you what it really means. Of course, the spirit will only indwell when you ask for it.
The bible is, even for someone who doesn’t believe in God, a wonderful book, a valuable lesson in human relations, and a history of more than just the Jewish people (and every day it is proven more and more to be an accurate historical document.) It has wisdom, poetry, substance, and value to everyone and anyone who has to survive in this world. To those who do believe in God, and who have accepted the Ruach HaKodesh, they will read all that the non-believers will read but get so much more out of it.
I give to you today a blessing and a curse regarding the Word of God: the blessing is that if you allow the Ruach HaKodesh to be your ultimate interpreter when you read the bible you will receive wonderful, life-changing, and eternal understanding of God and His kingdom. The curse is this: if you only listen to others, you accept what you like and reject what you don’t like, and never ask God to lead your understanding, then the bible will become a trap and a snare for you and you will be led not to eternal joy but placed on a direct path to the Lake of Fire!
The bible is like fire: when handled with respect and awe it can warm you, save your life and provide protection; but, when not respected, understood or treated with concern it will turn on you, destroying you and everything you have.
God is just so much so! He is so far above us and so much holier than we can even imagine that He must be treated with the ultimate level of respect. He is the One, He is all there is, He is everything (and I mean, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G) and the only thing that matters. As humans, we want to have the world revolve around us, but we need to revolve around God. He should be the center of our universe, and His word should be treated with total respect and awe. It is like dynamite- when you use it respecting it’s power, you get tremendous benefit from it. When you treat it casually and without respect, you get blown to bits!
Look for what God has in the bible for you, but make sure that no matter what you hear from humans, you always test it against what God tells you through the Ruach HaKodesh.