Torah Portion: Vayishlach (He Sent) B’Resheet (Gen.) 32-36

HafTorah:  Hosea 11:7-12:12

 This week we read of the return of Jacob to the Land, his first meeting with his brother Esau in over twenty years and the death of their father Isaac and his burial along side Abraham. We also read of his constant struggles. At every stage he encounters things that test his resolve to go on in his life. There are several points that I would like to cover in his life which I think have a special message to each of us in our own walk with the Father.


First, let us look at his battle against an unknown assailant in the dark of night at the brook before he meets Esau. In Genesis 32:25-30 we read the account of this struggle that goes on until the rising of the sun. He wrestled with his assailant and refused to let him go until he blessed Jacob by changing his name from Jacob to Israel. Jacob, who had to struggle, to wrestle with much in his life, had his name changed from “Heel grabber” to “He Who Struggles with G-d.”

The point being, Jacob never in his life gave up on the blessing of G-d. He struggled with Esau for the birthright, he struggled with Isaac for the blessing and with Laban. He realized that G-d’s call, G-d’s blessing and birthright were worth the struggle. Something that Esau traded for a bowl of soup he was willing to fight for. He held on to the eternal blessing of the Father and from him we learn the value of the eternal. We learn to hold on to G-d and refuse to let Him go.

Sometimes if our prayers are not quickly answered or we receive an answer that we did not expect we let go. Sometimes, in a trial G-d allows into our lives, we let go. Jacob never let go and so must we never let go. Our culture tells us to not trust anything we cannot feel or see with our eyes. We must remember Jacob who even in the darkness did not let go.

We also read when Esau and Jacob met it was not the meeting that Jacob expected but was filled with kisses and weeping. In fact, Esau asked Jacob to come home with him and settle there. Jacob did not take this offer but went another way and settled in Succoth. Genesis 33:16-17. Why did he not accept Esau’s offer? His decision carried implications far more complex than we might think. Had he gone with Esau it is possible G-d’s promise would have been lost. Esau was a person who lived in the present with little thought of the future or what it held.  He was a person driven by what his immediate need or desire was at the time. Sacrifice for the future held no allure for him. In fact, his name means complete, no need to look ahead. Remember he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.

What does the difference in these two twins say to us? Jacob’s name is a future tense word meaning he was always looking ahead thinking about how his actions today would affect tomorrow, what must he do to perpetuate the birthright, the plan of G-d.

This speaks to each of us today. If our faith is not to die with us we must, everyday, live as if it was our last day. We must not be seduced by the present but always look ahead. If not, the world will provide plenty of opportunities to become lost in the present. We and our descendents can easily lose our way in the siren sound of the temptations of our world.  Jacob is an example of a man who held on to G-d’s promises. His children, even with all their problems, became the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel and carried on the birthright promise of G-d to their father Jacob.

In Genesis 32:8 we read the verse that my question was based on. Jacob felt both fear and despair. What is the difference in fear and despair?  Fear is usually a physical reaction to a threat, “fight or flight.” Despair is usually an emotional reaction. Jacob felt fear knowing his brother might kill him. I think he felt despair at the thought of having to potentially kill his twin. My point being, sometimes our choices in life may be what we must do in a situation that is the right choice but that choice may result in hurting or harming another person. That can never be taken lightly. Sometimes the right choice will bring hurt to someone and for that as a child of G-d, we feel despair for them and for ourselves. It should never be taken lightly but with compassion and mercy. I think Jacob was struggling with what might be and he felt the weight of that action he may have to take. So it is with us. We must never delight in the pain of others.