Some Thoughts on Vayishlach

This week’s parasha, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43*, begins with Ya’acov (Jacob) continuing his journey homeward after his twenty-year stay with his uncle/father-in-law Laban. However, his homecoming is not marked by hopes of a joyous celebration with the anticipated family reunion after two decades of absence. Instead, in his heart and mind, Ya’acov is echoing Job’s mournful cry

“For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”

Job 3:25-26

Before continuing, remember these words of HaShem about or to Ya’acov,

To Rivka as her sons struggled in her womb, “The LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

To Ya’acov after reaffirming to him the covenant HaShem made with Abraham and Isaac, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15)

To Ya’acov as the rift deepens between him and Laban and his sons, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3)

In these three passages, it is clear that (1) Ya’acov had been placed in preeminence over Esau; (2) HaShem would watch over, protect and care for Ya’acov in all of his travels – both abroad and back home; and (3) at the command of HaShem and after the twenty years of exile, it was time for Ya’acov to return home.

So, with all these promises and words of affirmation the question that comes to mind is, “Of what is Ya’acov fearful? After all, Ya’acov was familiar with the love, care, and protection of HaShem in any situation. One answer proposed by both Rabbinic and Christian commentators concerns Ya’acov’s wrestling partner during the night at the ford of the Jabbok (see Genesis 32:22-31). While the common interpretation is that Ya’acov wrestled with an angelic messenger sent by HaShem, others suggest that Ya’acov was wrestling with himself—with his own perceived shortcomings, with his feelings of being inadequate to receive the forgiveness of his brother or even with the continued blessing from HaShem.

I realize that for some this might be a stretch too far. How could Ya’acov have possibly changed his own name and then blessed himself. Ya’acov’s wrestling with himself is a hermeneutical interpretation of the situation. Before shrugging this interpretation off, consider the times we have allowed our own fears and doubts to stand in the way of our obedience to HaShem and his directions for us or of our reception of the bounty and blessing he wishes to bestow upon us. Many years later another Ya’acov (James) would warn his readers to trust in HaShem and not give way to their doubts.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  

James 1:5-6

Rav Shaul reminds his readers that we have nothing to fear except God himself,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.

Romans 8:31 & 38-39

Finally note Rav Shaul’s words to the Corinthians, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Ya’acov overcame his fears after wrestling all night near the Jabbok river; we too overcome our fears, inner or outer, through our own wrestling. We need to remember and cling to HaShem’s words and promises, because they are primarily dependent upon his character and not contingent upon our faults. He is worthy of our commitment and trust. May we continually trust in his provisions and care as we navigate life’s precarious situation. 

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2

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