Read in the Diaspora on 5 December 2020 (19 Kislev 5781).
Parashat Vayishlach is the 8th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.
In this week’s portion, Jacob prepares to meet Esau. He and his family has left the home of Laban and they are en route to Canaan, what will eventually be the Holy Land. Jacob goes ahead of them and has sent messengers ahead to reconnoiter. They come back to report that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men.
Jacob is concerned as he prepares to stay ahead of his family. During the night, he wrestles with a “man” who is actually an angel. (Some say it was Esau’s guardian angel). Jacob seems to defeat and the “man” dislocates his hip. Jacob still holds on to him and when morning comes, the “man” asks him to release him. Jacob demands he tell him his name, which the “man” refuses, but he says that Hashem will give him the name “Israel”. This will be in addition to his name “Jacob” (unlike “Abram” becoming “Abraham”), which means “he strives” and “prince”.
Jacob takes three steps to meet Esau: he prays, he sends gifts as a tribute, and he divides his camp so that he and his men are in front, Leah and her maidservants and sons are behind him, and Rachel and Joseph are in the back. The sages say that this is how Jews should deal with foreigners who are in power.
Esau surprises Jacob by greeting him with friendship. Some question his sincerity. He at first refuses Jacob’s gifts, saying he has more than enough (Isaac’s blessing). He then accepts the gifts and leaves. Jacob and his family continue on and they go their separate ways and settle in different places so that they have enough room to thrive.
On the way, they get news that Rebecca, his mother, has died. Also on the way, Rachel gives birth to her second son, Benjamin, and also dies.
Jacob and his family settle in Canaan near Shechem. Dinah goes out to meet the local girls and she is accosted by Shechem, the prince (same name as the area). Shechem decides he loves her asks for her to be his wife. Shechem’s father, the king, sees Jacob’s wealth and proposes that they intermarry their sons and daughters.
Jacob’s sons are outraged that Dinah was raped, but seeing that they are outnumbered, they devise a plan. They tell the people of Shechem that they will agree to this only if they circumcise the men. Shechem agrees, seeing that this way they can get their wealth. During the third day, while all the men are in pain, Shimeon and Levi come in to the village during the night and kill all the males. The other sons come in and pillage.
After they settle, Jacob has a vision, this time with Hashem. Hashem confirms that he will be known as “Israel”. This, however, does not preclude him being called Jacob as well.