In his book, Gateway to Happiness, Rabbi Pliskin writes,

The cause of much sadness and suffering for many people is not their present experiences. Rather they cause themselves pain by regretting and resenting the past or worrying about the future. 

Yeshua attempted to get this point across to his talmidim when he told them, 

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? … Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

Matthew 6:27 & 34 ii

While Yeshua specifically said “don’t worry about tomorrow” the same could be said about yesterday, no matter how far in the past “yesterday” is. Just as we can do nothing about tomorrow because it isn’t here yet, we can do nothing about our past because it is already done, and the time is gone. It has been said that among the most devastating phrases, in any language, is “if I had only…”. Looking back and regretting past actions is only profitable if first we do not dwell on the past actions and second if we allow the past actions to guide us to better actions or thoughts in our “today.” A popular quotation sums up this issue, “Remember the past, plan for the future, but live for today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come” (loosely based upon Yeshua’s teaching in Luke 12:25-26). I offer one more bit of encouragement to live for the day in the present, this time from the psalmist.

“This is the day (today) that the LORD has made—let us exult and rejoice on it.”

Psalm 118:24 iii

So why did I start with the idea of not living in the past or the future? In this week’s parasha, Vayechi, Genesis 47:28 – 50:26, after the death of Joseph’s father Jacob, we see Joseph’s brothers actually quaking in fear that Joseph would now reap vengeance upon them for their actions against him.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!”

Genesis 50:15

More than seventeen years earlier, Joseph had, at least in his own mind, settled this issue when he proclaimed to his brothers,

 “Come forward to me.” And when they came forward, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.”

Genesis 45:4-8

In Joseph’s mind and heart, the situation was finished; he held no ill will against his brothers. Unfortunately, his brothers apparently did not let go of their past actions and almost three decades after the event, they still were allowing their past to fertilize a root of fear. Using a bit of sanctified imagination, one might imagine that in the seventeen years that Jacob and his family lived in Egypt, (see Genesis 47:28) the brothers, minus Benjamin, were probably a bit restrained around Joseph, not fully trusting in his forgiveness. It is as if they were just waiting for the other shoe to fall and to suffer the wrath of their sibling patron. By holding on to their actions in the past, they did not allow themselves to fully enjoy the grace and goodness of their brother. This episode ends with Joseph once again affirming that it was HaShem who brought him (Joseph) to Egypt and that Joseph did not blame his brothers. More than this, Joseph reaffirmed that he would take care of his brothers and their children.

Most of us have times in our past when we did things wrong or made wrong choses, which in turn caused pain, strained or severed relationships, or other manner of physical loss. Or like Joseph, the actions or words of others have caused us pain, strained or severed relationships, or other manner of physical loss. Whether we are at fault or the one wronged, we still need to realize that the past is the past. The reality is that we cannot do anything about the past, except either continue to allow the past to hurt us, as Joseph’s brothers did or, like Joseph, release it to HaShem trusting that he was working and will work out all things to the good (see Romans 8:28). Making the choice to let go of the past and live in the present is not easy. Sometimes one has to make the choice daily, maybe even hourly, until the hurt and pain no longer raises it head. With this daily choice in mind, consider Yeshua’s words to his talmidim and by extension to each of us,

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

It was and is Yeshua’s desire that we have shalom, iv an attitude of being settled in our innermost being. If we allow the shalom that he provides to take root and live within us, then like the psalmist we can truly say, “This is the day that the LORD has made—(we choose to) exult and rejoice on it.”

i Zelig Pliskin. Gateway to Happiness. Monsey, NY., The Jewish Learning Exchange, 1983, p 143.
ii Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
iii Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.
iv Various nuances of the word shalom includes peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. 

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Before getting into the tidbits that I found interesting about this week’s parasha, Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27, * let me briefly recap last week’s thoughts. Remember the main point was that we do not always understand or perceive how good could possibly come from something seemingly bad. However, Joseph to whom the bad had definitely happened, interpreted reality for his brothers in just this way.

“Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” … “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.”

Genesis 45:5 & 7-8

I am going to take a little poetic license at this point as say that the reason Joseph could articulate this point so well, is that he had already worked it out for himself. He had resolved the issue and truly understood that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I am going to go a step further and remind us all that HaShem’s purposes will be worked out for the good, which may not necessarily be our own thoughts, plans and purposes. Thus, it typically works out better if we do our best to follow his plans than if we try and figure out ways to get him to follow ours.

Now on to this week’s thoughts. At the beginning of Genesis 46 Jacob sets out for Egypt with his whole family, servants, and possessions expressly to see the son that for more than ten years Jacob thought was dead. It is noteworthy that this journey begins with another divine communique. I say another because during Jacob’s life he received at least five divine communiques before this one. Consider too that each divine communique relates to Jacob’s entering or leaving the promised land. 

The first communique (Genesis 28:12-17) was given as Jacob was fleeing his homeland for Paddan-Aram in search of a wife, as well as avoiding Esau’s wrath. The communique included a promise of care and provision for Jacob during his travels. The second one (Genesis 32:1) occurred some twenty years later when Jacob returned to the land of his birth, and the third (Genesis 32:24-31), when he was making final preparations to reconnect with his brother Esau. In this communique Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. The fourth communique was short (Genesis 32:1); Jacob was to move on from Shechem back to Beth El where he had received the first communique. At Beth El Jacob received the fifth communique, the reaffirmation of the covenant promised to Abraham and Isaac as well as reaffirming his name change to Israel (Genesis 35: 9-12). Finally, we come to communique number six. HaShem states,

“Jacob! Jacob!” He answered, “Here (am I).” And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Genesis 46:2-4

It is important to note that the first and the last communiques came as Jacob was leaving the land for the diaspora, first to Paddan-Aram and then to Egypt. The first ended with HaShem’s promise to bring Jacob back to the land, “Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15). The last ended with a reciprocal promise to bring Jacob back to the land after his death, “I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:4). 

So, what is the purpose of this review of Jacob’s divine communiques? They remind us that from the beginning to the ending of Jacob’s life HaShem was there caring and providing for him. HaShem, through Moses, reiterates this promise to Jacob’s descendants after their exile in Egypt was over and they were preparing to enter the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

“Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for the LORD your God Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

In the Apostolic Writings in his closing exhortations to his readers, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews echoed these words to those who were followers of Messiah Yeshua

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So, we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6 **

Looking back over Jacob’s life and travels, it would seem that he sometimes forgot that the LORD was truly his helper. But that’s okay, if we were to look back on our own lives and travels, we would discover that there were times that we too forgot. We need to remind ourselves daily, whether we have received divine communiques like those of Jacob or not, that HaShem is with us and has promised never to leave us – even when the road seems to be rough. And when those rough times come, and they will come, we need to say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

* Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.

** Unless otherwise noted, the readings from the Brit Chadasha are from The Jewish Annotated New Testament 1st edition. Edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine. New York, Oxford University Press, 2011.

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In his book Growth Through Torah * Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, wrote, “Patience will prevent you from prematurely evaluating a situation as negative” (p 117). While this quote may seem a bit of an odd way to begin this week’s thoughts on Miketz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17, as we consider the life and times of Joseph, it won’t seem so odd.

Remember, Joseph was Rachel’s first natural born son; ten other sons had already been born to Leah and her handmaid Zilpah and to Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah (see Genesis 30:22-24). So, the stage is set, favorite wife finally gives birth to favorite son. We know about Joseph’s favorite son status from last week’s parasha, VaYeshev, which clearly states, “Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age” (Genesis 37:3) **. Unfortunately, this did not set well with Joseph’s brothers, “And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him” (Genesis 37:4). From an outsider’s point of view, this is a negative situation. Later in the narrative, while on a mission from his father, Joseph encounters his brothers. Instead of warmly receiving him, the brothers decide to throw him in a dry well (Genesis 37:24). While sharing a meal, the brothers looked up and saw a caravan of traders on their way to Egypt. Seeing a way to get rid of Joseph without killing him, Joseph’s brother sold him to the traders as a slave (Genesis 37:28). The narrative in VaYeshev tells us of Joseph being sold to Potipher and being placed in charge of Potiphar’s house and ends with Joseph being unjustly placed into prison where he stayed for more than two years. If anybody has the “right” to evaluate his own position as negative, surely Joseph did. He went from the favored son, to slavery and eventually to being unjustly placed in prison in a foreign country. How long does one need to have patience? How much perceived negativity does one have to experience before they are able to say, enough is enough?

In this week’s parasha we learn that Joseph is released from prison and almost immediately elevated to the highest position in the Egyptian government, second only to pharaoh himself. Returning to Rabbi Pliskin thoughts, he goes on to say, “There are many events in each person’s life that might appear to be negative when they first happen. But if a person were to know the entire picture of the consequences of these events, he would readily see how the Almighty planned them for good” (p 117). 

The prophet Jeremiah, prompted by the Ruach, wrote these words to inhabitants of Judah when they were about to go into Babylonian captivity,

“For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the Lord—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

The destruction of the First Temple and national exile were soon to become a painful reality, and HaShem speaks words of encouragement about the plans he has for Israel to give them a hopeful future. Centuries later, Rav Shaul would write to the Yeshua believers in Rome,  

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28 ***

In a footnote to this verse, the editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament point out that “other ancient authorities read God makes all things work together for good, or in all things God works for good.” Regardless of the reading, the bottom line is that HaShem is in control of the situations and circumstances of our lives – the ones he specifically orders as well as the ones that we cause to happen through bad choices or disobedience. Continuing with Rav Shaul’s encouragement to the Yeshua believers in Rome 

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Romans 8:29-30

Here again the editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament focus on an important aspect concerning those he foreknew stating that “Foreknew, a characterization of God’s sovereignty over the future, and not on the existence of free choice among human beings.”

This is an important observation, whether we are looking back at Joseph’s life or looking at our own, HaShem was, is and always will be sovereign and in control of the overall plan that he has for each of us. How this works is a bit of a mystery; his sovereignty does not override our choices or the choices and actions of others. However, in his foreknowledge, he knows how things need to work out to provide a good and hopeful.

I imagine that Joseph had times where he wondered if his dreams were really from HaShem or if they were from his youthful imagination (see Genesis 37:5-7 and 9). There are times in our own lives when we might fall prey to doubts and to the lies of the enemy that say we will never accomplish the things HaShem has placed in our hearts and minds. When the doubts come, we must hold on to the knowledge that HaShem knows our situations and circumstances and has our best in mind. It is incumbent upon us to remain patient, not driven by the situations and circumstances, no matter how bad they may seem, but trusting in the faithfulness and the promises of HaShem. I leave you with HaShem’s words whereby the author of the Letter to the Hebrews encouraged his readers:

“I will never leave you or forsake you.” So, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6; quoting of Deuteronomy 31:6, 8 and Psalm 118:6

* Zelig Pliskin. Growth Through Torah, Insights and Stories for the Shabbos Table. Brooklyn, Aish Hatorah Publications, 1988.

** Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.

*** Unless otherwise noted, the readings from the Brit Chadasha are from The Jewish Annotated New Testament 1st edition. Edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine. New York, Oxford University Press, 2011.

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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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It is often said that Yaacov exhibited a bit of chutzpah upon awakening after his vision. I am referring to the vision Yaacov had on the evening after he fled his home in Beer Sheva for Paddan-aram. While sleeping with a rock for his pillow, Yaacov had a heavenly vision in which HaShem reaffirmed his promises made to Abraham and Isaac and had begun to be realized in Yaacov. As an extra added umph to the affirmation, HaShem made a promise to Yaacov,

“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

With such a divine promise, how could Yaacov’s life go wrong? HaShem promised to be with him and to keep him, no matter where he went. Plus, at the right time HaShem would bring Yaacov back to the promised land and fulfill all that he (HaShem) had promised. Wow, what a fantastic promise! However, Yaacov characteristically seemed to allow his chutzpah to get the better of him when he made the following vow,

“If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God.”

Genesis 28:20-21

But was this really chutzpah? Let’s consider what we know about Yaacov and his personal world view. Yaacov was the grandson of Abraham, whose father was an idolator (Joshua 24:2). We also know that his mother Rivka’s (Rebekah), father was Abraham’s nephew who lived in the same area Mesopotamia most probably indicating that they were idolators as well. We also know that both Isaac and Yaacov were NOT to take wives from among the Canaanites because they were also idolators. In this type of cultural/spiritual environment, it is quite plausible that while Yaacov knew of his father’s and his grandfather’s God, he had not yet made a decision to give his full allegiance to HaShem. With this in mind, when we look at Yaacov’s response to his vision, we do not hear his oath so much as chutzpah but rather as a hesitant acceptance of the God of Abraham and Isaac. Yaacov saw the vision and heard the heavenly proclamation and pledged to see if and how things would work out in everyday life. 

Note what Yaacov asked is echoed in HaShem’s words through Moshe as Bnei Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land:

“You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. … I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot. You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink, in order that you might know that I am the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 29:1-3 & 5-6

The way HaShem cared for Bnei Israel reflects his care for Yaacov. Like Yaacov, Bnei Israel came through the trials and struggles stronger, healthier, and wealthier than when they started. Yaacov went to Paddan-aram single with few possessions and very little wealth. Twenty years later, he returned home with wives, concubines, children, and an abundance of wealth and possessions. Years later Yaacov and his family of seventy went go down to Egypt. When they left Egypt, this family unit was a large people group, well on its way to becoming a nation. They also took a significant portion of the wealth of their former Egyptian masters. 

There are a couple of things that we can take away from these observations concerning Yaacov. First, though it may be quite cliché, we shouldn’t make snap judgments, especially without knowing at least some of the background. While on one hand Yaacov’s “bargaining” with HaShem seems rather impertinent behavior according to our modern morés. However, as Rabbi Dauermann observes in this week’s Shulhan Shelanu,

Up until this time in his life, we see Jacob involved in transactional relationships, making deals, and trade-offs (as when he barters with his brother for his birthright). Parties in such relationships are concerned with how they will benefit and want to make sure they get as much as they can from the relationship.

Shulchan Shelanu, Vol. 2 Is. 50 – Vayetzei – November 28, 2020

With this in mind, it could be said that Yaacov was in a sense counting the cost of making his father’s God his own God while keeping his options open.

The second takeaway is that we always have the final choice in whether we do or do not follow HaShem. I believe that Yaacov recognized that HaShem left the choice up to him. HaShem did not demand anything from Yaacov. HaShem simply reaffirmed the patriarchal covenant with Yaacov and promised his assistance to Yaacov wherever Yaacov went. Even with the divine declaration, Yaacov always had the option as well as the ability to choose whether to follow HaShem or take another path.

Finally, and maybe most encouraging for us all, Yaacov was not a of paragon excellence. He had his faults, his choices were not always the best, and at times, his advisors gave him less than honorable advice. However, through it all, he continually turned back to the God of his fathers’ until eventually HaShem became his God by choice. Consider David’s admonition to Solomon, “If you seek Him, He will let you find Him” (1 Chronicles 28:9) or Jeremiah’s words to errant Israel, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 29:13-14). HaShem wanted Yaacov to follow him and walk in his ways, but HaShem was not going to force Yaacov to do so. Likewise, HaShem desires us to follow him and walk in his ways. Let us all choose to do so together. Then when we faulter or trip along the way, let’s quickly make the choice to return to HaShem with all of our heart. Through it all remember Yeshua’s proclamation “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

* 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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In this week’s parasha, Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9, we see Isaac setting the stage for the next two decades.

Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. “Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Genesis 27:1-4

The story is well known, Jacob, with Rebekah’s prompting and assistance, deceives Isaac and receives the blessing of the firstborn, which was Esau, who had already sold his birthright to his brother Jacob. Esau was less than happy, and Jacob was understandably afraid for his life.

In the end, at Rebecca’s planning and Isaac’s direction, Jacob flees his home and family to his uncle Laban and his hospitality. Jacob spends 20 years working for Laban acquiring 2 wives, 2 concubines and eleven sons, as well as quite a bit of wealth before he returned home.

Now, flashback to the beginning of the story. Esau and Jacob were conceived after Rebekah had been barren for 20 years. According to Scripture it was not an easy pregnancy or birth, so much so that Rebekah cried out to HaShem and received a prophecy about her sons,

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

The struggle that plagued the boys in the womb continued as they grew, albeit fostered by parental favoritism.

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Genesis 25:27-28

We are not told whether Rebekah ever told Isaac about the prophecy she heard from HaShem. However, with Jacob being her favorite, Rebekah instilled in him the intent of the prophecy that despite being the second born, he would eventually be the one in charge, that he would, in essence, be in the place of the firstborn. 

With this in mind, it is quite feasible that Jacob would attempt to help the plans of HaShem when Esau came in from the fields, famished, and demanding to be fed. 

Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.

Genesis 25:31-33

Whatever Jacob’s motives, he did in fact take advantage of his brother’s situation. Esau, however, was far from innocent in the interchange. After satisfying his physical appetite, Scripture says that Esau despised his birthright. His position as firstborn was sold for a single meal.

Now, we come to the passage where we started. Isaac calls Esau to him, and in verbiage much like Esau to Jacob, pleads with Esau to quickly prepare him a meal to gratify his stomach. Then similar to Esau’s interchange with Jacob over the need for food, he says, “Behold, I am about to die…”  Isaac predicates his desire for a meal prepared by Esau because Isaac did not know the day of his death and wanted to eat and then bless Esau before he (Isaac) died.

Two points of clarification; 1) Isaac did not die for another twenty years, as it is written in Genesis 35:28, Isaac “died an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him, and 2) with the prompting of Rebekah, Isaac agreed to help the plans of HaShem once again. This time, Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac into believing that Jacob was Esau. Then, after providing the meal Isaac desired, Jacob receives the blessing of the firstborn, fulfilling his prophetic position of preeminence over his elder brother.

Would the prophecy have been fulfilled if Jacob and Rebekah hadn’t helped matters along?  Yes, but the narrative would have developed differently, possibly even without the animosity that divided Esau and Jacob for years and served as a wedge dividing their future descendants. Jacob still would have left to his uncle Laban, as he received the same charge from Isaac that Abraham had given to his servant concerning Isaac’s future wife, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,” (Genesis 28:1). However, in their attempt to ensure the fulfillment of HaShem’s prophetic word, a family was split apart and even after 20 years of separation, the closeness of the family bond was never really restored. Also notice that after Rebekah pleaded with Isaac to send Jacob to her brother’s family to find a wife, Rebekah is not mentioned again except for a passing note that she was buried in the same cave as Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 49:31).

In conclusion, there is a very fine line between using common sense and wisdom in following the Ruach and using manipulation, even well meaning, to accomplish that which HaShem has set before us. We need to be cautious about rationalizing our actions and/or our motives, always ensuring that our desire is to bring honor and glory to HaShem and not bring about self-glorification. With the psalmist David, let our mantra be,


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be [always] acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14

* 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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In the Babylonian Talmud it is written,

Rav Yehuda bar Sheila said that Rabbi Asi said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: There are six matters a person enjoys the profits of in this world, and nevertheless the principal exists for him for the World-to-Come, and they are: Hospitality toward guests, and visiting the sick, and consideration during prayer, and rising early to the study hall, and one who raises his sons to engage in Torah study, and one who judges another favorably, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Shabbat 127a

This week’s parasha, Vayera, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24* provides the seedbed for the first two matters, hospitality and visiting the sick.

Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.

Genesis 18:1-3

Hospitality is easy to see. Abraham, it would appear, was sitting in the door of his tent looking for travellers upon whom to share or bestow hospitality. The three approaching “men” provided Abraham with such an opportunity. In the process, Abraham went well beyond the dictates to traditional norm. 

Visiting the sick, on the other hand, is not so obvious, unless we take into account the explanation of the sages.

Rabbi Hama the son of Hanina, speaking of these visitors coming to Abraham, said: it was the third day after his circumcision and the Holy One, blessed be He, came and enquired after the state of his health.

Bava Metzia 86b

Remember that at the end of Genesis 17, at the command of HaShem, Abraham, Ishmael, and all the men in Abraham’s household, whether natural born or bought, were circumcised. Then chapter 18 begins “now”, or some translations say “then” or “and” followed by “the LORD appeared to him…”. The rabbis understand the immediacy of this phrase as connecting the circumcision of chapter 17 to HaShem visiting Abraham to see how he and obviously the rest of his household was doing after the circumcisions had been performed. We know from the episode of Simeon and Levi and the men of Shechem, that the days following adult circumcision are not the most comfortable of times (see Genesis 34:25). If Rabbi Hama’s observation is correct, it reenforces the understanding of the importance of hospitality to strangers. To Abraham, hospitality was more important than his own pain or inconvenience.

Another lesson on hospitality in Vayera is often overlooked, that of Lot toward the two visitors.

Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them,he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, “Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” They said however, “No, but we shall spend the night in the square.” Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

Genesis 19:1-3

Lot, while a herdsman by upbringing and trade, had moved from living in tents to become a city dweller. But the traditional need to extend hospitality to strangers remained etched in his DNA. It is suggested that the same desire to extend hospitality to strangers that placed Abraham in the “door of his tent” prompted Lot to be sitting in the gate of Sodom as evening was approaching. And just like Abraham, Lot prepared a feast for the visitors. 

While the Torah places importance on hospitality, what about the Apostolic Writings? Two verses immediately come to mind, though neither specifically mention hospitality. The first is the second great commandment, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:39). Note that in another place, Yeshua affirms that our neighbor is not only defined by proximity, but also, and possibly more importantly, by need (see Luke 10:29-37). The second emphasizes the importance of caring for others, especially for those in need. In Yeshua’s discourse in Matthew on the final judgment, when the nations assemble before him and he separates people as a shepherd separates sheep and goats, the measure used by the Son of Man to determine who would inherit the kingdom is summed up by these words,

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:40

But those who were granted entrance were confused. What was it that we did they asked? He told them, that as they gave sustenance to the hungry, as they made welcome the stranger, as they provided the needs of others, as they visited the sick and those in prison, it was as if they were doing it for him. Interestingly it appears that those who did these things, did not consider doing such things as something out of the ordinary. Just as Abraham and Lot sought the opportunity to extend hospitality as a natural thing to do, so do those who will inherit the kingdom. 

Extending hospitality, meeting the needs of others, even when it is not so convenient for us, is a true expression of walking out “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

* 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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