Archive for November 2012

Parashat VaYishlach

Friday, November 30, 2012 · Posted in , , , , ,

Parashat VaYishlach
Bereishit 32:4-36:43

[Yaakov bows before 'Esav]

Parsha Summary

Confrontation with 'Esav
Rape of Dinah
Yaakov becomes Yisrael
The birth of Binyamin
Yitzchak dies
Esav's and Seir's descendants
Kings of Edom

32:4 Vayishlach Yaakov malachim lefanav el-'Esav achiv artzah Se'ir sdeh Edom
Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him to 'Esav, his brother, to the Land of Seir, to the field of Edom.
Some people read this entire chapter every Saturday night after Havdalah. This chapter has the spiritual power to cause its reader to be well-liked. When planning to travel by land or sea, reading this section is especially beneficial to protect one from his enemies. (Sh'nei Luchot HaB'rit)

This chapter also alludes to everything that is happening to us in our present exile. Everything that transpired between Ya'akov and 'Esav is reflected in the relationship between us and 'Esav's descendants.

This section teaches us that we must use three things in our relationship with 'Esav's children (the gentiles):

  1. Prayer. We must pray to G-d to save us from our enemies.
  2. Tribute. In order to stop them from denouncing us, we must pay tribute to them, just as Yaakov gave 'Esav.
  3. Escape. We should try to escape from them and not be around them when they become angry. (Ramban; Bachya)

The Midrash relates that Rabbi Yehudah the Prince once traveled to Rome to meet with the Roman emperor [around 192 c.e.]. Before meeting with him, he read this account of Yaakov's encounter with 'Esav so as to learn how to approach a worldly leader. (Bereishit Rabbah; Ramban)  Since our position is weak, we must use diplomacy, and not be aggressive. This chapter can supply one with many good lessons in dealing with the aristocracy.

After Yaakov left, Lavan summoned his seventeen-year-old son Be'or, (This was Balaam's father, see BaMidbar 22:5. The Zohar also makes this identification, Zohar 1:166b, 3:192a; Zohar Chadash 54c, and this opinion is cited by the author.  The Talmud, however, Sanhedrin 105b, states that Be'or was Lavan himself. Cf. Bereishit 36:32) and his cousin Avichoref, the son of Nachor's firstborn, Utz. (See Bereishit 22:21)

"You must have heard how Yaakov swindled me. He came to me naked and empty-handed. I was good enough to take him in and offer him hospitality. I honored him and gave him my two daughters and two slave girls as wives. On my account, he became extremely wealthy, acquiring gold, silver, slaves, and huge flocks. Once he was very wealthy, he duped me. I went to shear my sheep; and he, with all his family and possessions, fled to the land of Kenaan. Instead of letting me kiss my grandchildren good-by, he kidnapped them like prisoners of war. Not only that, but he also stole my household idols. He is presently camped on a mountain near the Yavvok River. You have the opportunity to attack him without warning and do as you wish to him. If you kill him, you will be doing me a favor."

When 'Esav read this letter, his anger toward Yaakov was rekindled. He started thinking again about how Yaakov had tricked him 34 years earlier by taking his blessing; and how he had previously acquired his birthright. He therefore assembled a troop of 400 men, 60 from his own household, and 340 warriors from the men of Seir. His army was divided into eight companies consisting of fifty men each. One of his lieutenants was his son Elifaz. 'Esav himself was in the middle of his army, giving orders like a general. Thus, he headed to meet Yaakov.

A number of 'Esav's acquaintances went to the land of Kenaan and told Rivkah of 'Esav's plans, advising her that Yaakov would need help. Rivkah sent 72 of her strongest servants, each one a trained soldier. With them, she sent the following message to Yaakov:

"My son, I have heard that 'Esav's grudge against you has been rekindled. He has recruited an army in order to kill you. My advice to you is to be nice to him and behave very humbly. Give him gifts to calm him down. If he asks you what you did since he last saw you, tell him everything. Do not omit even the slightest detail. Honor him; he is still your older brother."

According to another opinion, Yaakov knew nothing at all about the army that 'Esav had prepared to fight against him. His actions were the result of his own initiative. Yaakov realized that he would have to pass through Edom, which was 'Esav's home, since that was the only way back to Kenaan. He was afraid that 'Esav would attack him. He therefore took the initiative and tried to placate him. 

Yaakov therefore sent a number of men to go ahead of him to 'Esav. They were to head toward Edom's Field in the land of Seir. Edom's Field was a city between Charan and the land of Kenaan.
In Hebrew, the same word מַלְאָךְ (malach) denotes both a messenger and an angel. This is the word in our verse.  Some say that the messengers that Yaakov sent to 'Esav were the angels that had been sent to him to accompany him to Kenaan. His men were terrified of 'Esav and refused to go; so he had no choice but to send angels.

Furthermore, G-d had sent Yaakov these angels for no apparent reason. Yaakov said to himself, "Providence is telling me that I must send these angels to 'Esav. He will be awestruck when he sees them."

Yaakov had to send these messengers because he knew that 'Esav's destiny was very great. Yaakov had to flatter him, to tell him he was considered a great king in the world. Although 'Esav was wicked, Yaakov had to honor him, because 'Esav was his older brother. Yaakov wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and be nice to him; after all, the two were brothers.

Yaakov said to himself, "I know that 'Esav showed great respect for Father. He never did anything to make Father angry. As long as my father is alive, I have nothing to fear from 'Esav. But this is a propitious time to placate him, so that he will not bear me a grudge later." 

The Torah tells us that 'Esav lived in the land of Seir, in Edom's Field. This is to tell us what a spiteful person 'Esav was. He never wanted to forget what Yaakov had done to him. שֵׂעִיר [seir] means goat.  'Esav wanted to remind himself constantly that Yaakov had worn the skins of young goats so that his arms would seem hairy (seir-ot) when he tricked Yitzchak into blessing him. This would constantly remind him that Yaakov had stolen his blessing. 

He named his city Edom's Field.  אֱדוֹם (Edom) means red, the color of the stew for which 'Esav had sold his birthright (Bereishit 25:30). This was something else that he would never forget.

32:5 Vayetzav otam lemor koh tomrun ladoni le-'Esav koh amar avdecha Yaakov im-Lavan garti va'echar ad-atah
He commanded them saying, "This is what you should say to my master, 'Esav. 'Your servant, Yaakov says, I lived as a stranger with Lavan, and was delayed until now.
6 Vayehi-li shor vachamor tzon ve'eved veshifchah va'eshlechah lehagid ladoni limtzo-chen be'eineicha
I acquired oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants and maidservants. I have sent [these messengers] to tell this to my master, to find favor in your eyes.'"
Yaakov had an important reason for humbling himself before 'Esav.  Yitzchak had given Yaakov the blessing.  "Nations will serve you; governments will prostrate themselves to you" (27:29).  Now Esav was an insignificant chieftain; it would mean little if he bowed to Yaakov.  Yaakov therefore gave him status.  Then, when the time was right, 'Esav would come with all his pomp and glory, and prostrate himself to Yaakov.

This was obviously a very sensitive maneuver.  If 'Esav found out what Yaakov was planning, he would kill Yaakov with his bare hands to avoid it.  It would seem to him as bad as taking the birthright.  G-d, however, blinded 'Esav's eyes, so that he would not have any inkling of Yaakov's true intentions. (Zohar)

According to others, Yaakov showed 'Esav such great respect and called him "master" because he was afraid of him.  He had taken 'Esav's birthright; and he knew that 'Esav was itching for revenge.  He therefore gave 'Esav the title "master," as if to say, "Actually you are greater than me.  The sale of the birthright made no difference whatsoever." (RaMBaN)

"One thing I can say.  Although I stayed (garti) with Lavan, I kept the 613 mitzvot, and did not learn his bad ways." (Rashi; Zohar)  The Hebrew word גַרְתִּי (garti) has the same letters as תַּרְיַ״ג (taryag), the number 613.

Yaakov did not actually instruct his messengers to tell 'Esav that he had kept the mitzvot while with Lavan.  What difference would it have made to 'Esav whether or not Yaakov kept the mitzvot?  The message hat Yaakov had kept the 613 mitzvot was meant for the angels, who would bring it to 'Esav's spiritual guardian.  These angels would also pray that G-d would protect Yaakov from his brother. (Zera Berach, Pt. 1)

32:7 Vayashuvu hamalachim el-Yaakov lemor banu el-achicha el-'Esav vegam holech likratcha ve'arba-me'ot ish imo
The messengers returned to Yaakov saying, "We came to your brother, to 'Esav, and he is also coming to meet you; and there are four hundred men with him."
"When we came to 'Esav, we saw that he had readied an army of 400 kings."

Some say that 'Esav had 400 generals, each one leading a battalion of 400 men, for a total of 160,000 soldiers.  The "four hundred men" mentioned in Scripture refer to generals.

According to another opinion, each of 'Esav's men was able to do battle against 400 soldiers.

The messengers told Yaakov, " We came to your brother, to 'Esav.  Although you consider him your brother, you are mistaken.  He behaves like 'Esav - the 'Esav who is an infamous outlaw.  His hatred toward you is undiminished.  He is coming to 'greet' you with 400 men!" (Rashi; Zohar)

32:8 Vayira Yaakov me'od vayetzer lo vayachatz et-ha'am asher-ito ve'et-hatzon ve'et-habakar vehagmalim lishneh machanot
Yaakov was very frightened and distressed. He divided the people that were with him, along with the sheep, cattle and camels, into two camps.
Yaakov was concerned that he might be killed, but he was equally concerned that he might be forced to kill others.  If there were a battle, people would surely be killed.  "I am afraid," he said, "that my men will be killed; and I am equally afraid that he will lose some of his men." (Rashi)

It may seem difficult to understand Yaakov's fear.  Earlier, G-d had told him, "Behold, I am with you" (28:15).  If Yaakov had G-d's promis, why was he afraid of 'Esav?

Tzaddikim do not have self-confidence regarding the worldly.  They are aware of G-d's true greatness, and they know that He does not overlook even the smallest sin.  Yaakov was afraid that he had committed some minor sin, which would render him unworthy of having G-d's promise to him fulfilled. (Berachot, Chapter 1)

Yaakov was also afraid that he had done something wrong in not fully living up to the treaty that he had made with Lavan. (RaMBaN)

Another reason for Yaakov's fear was that fact that 'Esav had two spiritual advantages over him (Targum Yonatan; Zohar; Bereishit Rabbah):

  1. 'Esav was living in the Land of Yisrael, while Yaakov had lived elsewhere for 20 years.
  2. 'Esav kept the commandment to honor his father perfectly.  Even when 'Esav was buring with desire for revenge against Yaakov for taking the blessing, he said, "The days of mourning for my father are approaching.  I will then kill Yaakov" (27:41).  Angry as he was, he would not kill Yaakov while his father lived, since this would have grieved Yitzchak.
Yaakov, on the other hand, had not keep the commandment to honor his parents for 20 years.  True, he left the Holy Land with G-d's permission, as we saw in Parashat VaYetze.  Granted, his parents had told him to go to Lavan, as we saw in Parashat Toledot (27:43, 28:2).  But the condition was that he remain there for 7 years, and no more.  Since he was far away, he might be punished for staying longer.

Yaakov also did not study Torah during the time he was away.  He was too busy tending Lavan's sheep.  His spiritual status might have been further diminished because he had married two sisters.

G-d told Yaakov when he left Lavan, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace; I will be with you" (31:3).  This could have related to other matters, and not to his dealings with 'Esav.  'Esav had two merits that Yaakov lacked.  Furthermore, the promise may have been only that he would cross the boundary of the Land of Yisrael in peace and no more.  G-d answers prayers as they are stated, and Yaakov had asked G-d to "protect me on the path that I am taking" (28:20).  G-d's reply might have referred only to protection on the journey. (Yafeh Toar, p. 436)

Furthermore, although G-d had promised to protect Yaakov himself, there was no indication that this protection exteneded to his children.  It was only too possible that 'Esav would kill Yaakov's young sons.  G-d had promised Yaakov, "Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth" (28:14), but this may refer to other children, who would be born after he was in the Holy Land. (Binah LeIttim, d'rush 16)

Yaakov then divided his camp into two groups.  One was placed under the charge of Avraham's servant Eliezer, and the other was under Eliezer's son, Alinos. (Sefer HaYashar)

32:9 Vayomer im-yavo 'Esav el-hamachaneh ha'achat vehikahu vehayah hamachaneh hanish'ar lifleitah
He said, "If 'Esav comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will survive."
This teaches us that a person should not keep all his possessions in one place.  Someone may find out, and rob him.  Neither should one invest all his money in one deal.  He could thus suffer losses.  Rather, he should diversify his investments, so that if he loses money on one, the loss will be made up by the other investments. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Yaakov took the livestock and other goods and made one camp.  The women and children he made into a second camp.  He then said, "If 'Esav comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will survive."

It is taught in the name of Rabbi Yehudah Sharaf (1602-1675) that Yaakov was uncertain whether or not to engage 'Esav in battle.

Four different kings had varied opinons regarding how to deal with their enemies (Eicha Rabbah, Introduction 30):

  1. King David said, "I have pursued my enemies and have overtaken them; [I did not turn back until they were destroyed]" (Tehillim 18:38)
  2. Asa said, "I do not have the strength to wipe out my enemies.  I will pursue them, and let You deliver the final blow." [Asa thus prayed, "Help us, O G-d, for we rely on You, and in Your Name, we go against this multitude"] (2Divrei HaYamim 14:10)  It is then written, "G-d struck down the Kushim before Asa and Yehudah, and the Kushim fled.  Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Kushim were overthrown.  None remained alive, for they were shattered by G-d and His Host" (2Divrei HaYamim 14:11-12)
  3. Yehoshafat said, "I cannot even pursue my enemies. I will sing praise to G-d, and let Him take care of them." [Yehoshafat thus prayed, "O G-d, won't You punish them?  We are helpless against this large army which is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but we look to You for help" (2Divrei HaYamim 20:12).  It is then written, "When they began to sing and offer praise, G-d panicked the men of Amon, Moav and Mount Seir, who had invaded Yehudah.  They were stricken down.  The men of Amon and Moav attacked the citizens of Mount Seir, utterly destroying them.  When they had finished off the men of Seir, they all helped destroy one another." (20:22-23)]
  4. Chizkiyahu said, "I cannot pursue my enemies, and I cannot even sing praise to G-d.  I will remain in bed, and G-d will destory them" [Chizkiyahu thus said, "There is no strength to give birth" (2Melachim 19:3).  Still, it is later written, "That night, an angel of G-d went forth, and struck down the camp of the Assyrians... and in the morning, they were all corpses." (19:35).]
Each of these kings made a different request, and G-d answered each one according to his prayer.

G-d had told Yaakov, "Return to the land of your fathers, and I will be with you" (31:2).  Yaakove was therefore not sure whether or not to engage 'Esav in battle with all his strength  trusting that G-d would help him.  It was equally possible that G-d did not want him to fight against 'Esav, but rather, to let G-d take care of him.  If this was G-d's meaning, then Yaakov should not wage war against 'Esav, since war causes G-d to review carefully a person's deeds.  This was the reason that three of the four above-mentioned kings did not want to engage in war.

Yaakove therefore divided his company into two camps.  He left the first camp unarmed, with instructions not to fight at all.  The second camp, on the other hand, was extremely well armed.

Yaakov reasoned, "If 'Esav attacks the armed camp, this will be a sign that G-d wants me to engage 'Esav in battle.  I do not wish to remain with my hands tied.  The remaining camp will certainly survive, since G-d has promised that He would save me."

Yaakov therefore responded to the threat in three ways:
  1. With tribute.  He sent gifts to 'Esav to blind him.  Bribery can always accomplish its ends.
  2. With prayer.  He prayed that G-d would rescue him.
  3. With war.  If the other methods failed, he was prepared to meet 'Esav in battle. (Rashi)

32:14 Vayalen sham balailah hahu vayikach min-haba veyado minchah le-'Esav achiv
He spent that night there. He took from that which had come into his hand, [for] a present to his brother, 'Esav.
15 Izim matayim uteyashim esrim rechelim matayim ve'eilim esrim
Two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams.
 At first Yaakov separated a tithe from all his sheep and placed it aside. (Rashi; Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer)  The amount of animals that he separated as his tithe was 550 head. (Targum Yonatan)  He then took 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 nursing camels and 30 of their foals (Bachya), 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys.

The total number of animals mentioned here explicityly is 550 head.  This alludes to the fact that the royal line of Edom ('Esav) would begin 550 years before that of Yisrael.

(Since Shaul, the first king of Yisrael, took his throne in 2882 (879 b.c.e.), this would mean that Edom's kingdom began 550 years earlier in 2332 (1429 b.c.e.).  This was the year that Levi died.  It is well extablished that Levi was the last of Yaakov's sons to die.  Thus, there may have been a tradtion that 'Esav's kingdom did not begin during the lifetime of any of Yaakov's sons).

Yaakov's gift provides us with an idea of his wealth.  It is very unusual to see 30 nursing camels in one place, even in a large city.

Yaakov did not carefully select the animals that he was sending 'Esav, as people usually do when they send tribute to a king.  He did not send choice animals. The Torah thus says that "he took that which came in his hand." He picked them at random. Since they would be sent to a man as immoral as 'Esav, he left it up to the destiny of each animal.  Obviously, it is preferable for an animal to be slaughtered in a kosher manner and to be eaten by a tzaddik like Yaakov.  Since he was sending the animals to an inferior destiny, he left the selection to Providence. (Bereishit Rabbah; Rashi)

The Torah does not explicitly state that Yaakov sent male camels as it does in the case of the other animals.  This is because the camel is very modest when it mates. While other animals mate in the presence of others, the camel does not. If a man is caught watching camels at this intimate moment, the camel can attack and kill him.

This should teach us how modest we must be in marital relations.  If a person is awake in the house or apartment even in another room, it is forbidden to have intercourse.  This is true if even a 4 year old child is in the room, or any child who knows how to speak, even if he is separated from his parents by a barrier ten hand-breadths (around 35 inches) high.   If a couple visits either of their parents, it is considered very immodest for them to seclude themselves in a room when others are still up.  It is sinful for them to make others think about teir intimate moments. They should therefore wait until everyone is asleep.  If a couple have a boarder, they should be very careful that his room is out of earshot of their bedroom.

Yaakov placed the camels between the sheep and the cattle, since the camels are the tallest animals.  The animals making up the tribute would then appear like a fine portable throne.  'Esav would thus see that Yaakov respected him highly, and considered him his king and ruler. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Yaakov also took precious stones and jewels and placed them in the hands of his servants. (Rashi: That is that "which came in his hand," i.e., something that can be held in the and, namely jewels.)

Yaakov's tribute to 'Esav also included a valuable peregrine falcon. This would aid 'Esav in his hunts. (Bachya: This was also something "which came in his hand;" the falcon would be a bird that would fly to 'Esav's hand.  Normally, on a hunt, the falcon is held on a special perch on the falconer's hand.  In central Asia, falcons are still trained to hunt such desert animals as gazelles and foxes.)

32:17 Vayiten beyad-avadav eder eder levado vayomer el-avadav ivru lefanai verevach tasimu bein eder uvein eder
He placed them in the hand of his servants, each herd by itself. He said to his servants, "Pass on ahead of me, and keep a space between each heard."
Yaakov placed each type of animal in a separate group.  He then told his servants, "keep at least one day ahead of me.  I will follow you. And place some space between each group of animals.  I do not want all the animals bunched together.  'Esav will then see them all at once, and the tribute will seem small.  I want his eye to be satiated.  Place each flock by itself along the length of the road.  Since the goats are numerous, place them in front.  They can be followed by the sheep, then the camels, then the cattle, and finally the donkeys.  Between each flock, leave a mile.  When 'Esav first sees you, he will think that you are only bringing sheep.  The second flock will then appear to him like a second tribute.  The same should be true of each flock.  Last of all present him with the precious stones and jewels."

Yaakov's whole intent was that the tribute should appear more than it actually was.

Yaakov then prayed, "Master of the universe. I have left a space between each flock.  When my descendants are in exile, leave a space between their troubles.  Do not let the persecutions come all at once, but little by little, so that they will be able to rest after one persecution, and thus survive."

When Yaakov finally saw 'Esav at a distance, he wept profusely and prayed that G-d would save his children when they would be in their long bitter exile. (Bereishit Rabbah; Yafeh Toar, p. 435)

32:18 Vayetzav et-harishon lemor ki yifgashcha 'Esav achi ushe'elcha lemor lemi-atah ve'anah telech ulemi eleh lefaneicha
He commanded the first one, saying, "When my brother, 'Esav meets you and asks you saying, 'To whom do you belong. Where are you going; and who is the owner of this that is before you?'
19 Ve'amarta le'avdecha le-Yaakov minchah hi shluchah ladoni le-'Esav vehineh gam-hu achareinu
You should [then] say, ['They belong] to your servant, Yaakov. It is a present sent to my master, 'Esav, and see, he himself is also behind me.'"
20 Vayetzav gam et-hasheni gam et-hashlishi gam et-kol-haholchim acharei ha'adarim lemor kadavar hazeh tedabrun el-'Esav bemotza'achem oto
He also commanded the second and also the third, and to all who followed after the herds, saying, "In like manner must you speak to 'Esav when you find [meet] him.
21 Va'amartem gam hineh avdecha Yaakov achareinu ki-amar achaprah fanav baminkchah haholechet lefanai ve'acharei-chen er'eh fanav ulai yisa fanai
You should also say, 'See, your servant Yaakov is behind us. For he said, "I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterwards I will see his face, perhaps he will forgive me.'"
 "I hope that I will win over him so that he will no longer be resentful of me. (Rashi)

"Only say this to him if you see him coming with pomp and pride.  But if he comes with humility, do not say this to him, since it would not be proper then for me to humble myself before him." (Yafeh Toar, p. 438)

The Talmud teaches that there are four groups that will not experience the Divine Presence in Olam HaBah (the Future World):
  1. Scoffers
  2. Liars
  3. Slanderers
  4. Flatterers
Still, the Sages teach that it is permitted to flatter a criminal in order to escape his clutches.  This is learned from Yaakov, who flattered 'Esav because he was apprehensive about him.

According to another opinion, however, it is forbidden to flatter a wicked person, even when one is afraid.  Flattery is so despicable before G-d that it must be avoided completely.  Yaakov did not flatter 'Esav explicitly, but spoke amgiguously, allowing 'Esav to think that he accepted him as superior.  Such equivocal flattery is permitted. (Kad HaKemach, letter Chet)

32:22 Vata'avor haminchah al-panav vehu lan balailah-hahu bamachaneh
The present passed on ahead of him, but he spent the night in the camp.
23 Vayakom balailah hu vayikach et-shtei nashav ve'et-shtei shifchotav ve'et-achar asar yeladav vaya'avor et Ma'avar Yabok
He got up that night and took his two wives, his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and crossed over the ford of the Yabok [River].
24 Vayikachem vaya'avirem et-hanachal vaya'aver et-asher-lo
He [then] took them and crossed them over the stream. He [also] sent over all that he possessed.
At first Yaakov crossed the river himself to see if it could be forded.  When he saw that it was not very deep, he brought his family and belongings to the other side.  He made himself a bridge, bringing things from one side of the river to another. (Bachya; Rashi) 

Here the Torah notes that Yaakov took his wives before his children.  Above, however, we saw that he took his children first (31:17), and we said that this was because tzaddikim consider their children more valuable than their wives.  In this case, however, since he was crossing a rapidly flowing river, he brought the women across first.  The children would see them crossing and would not be afraid to cross themselves. (Abarbanel)

Yaakov did not have to take each thing separately.  Standing in the middle of a narrow part of the river, he was able to apss things from one side to the other.  This was simple for Yaakov, since he was very powerful. (Bereishit Rabbah)

At this time, Yaakov concealed Dinah inside a large chest, and locked it shut.  He did not want 'Esav to see her and desire her, possibly taking her by force. (Bereishit Rabbah; Rashi)

Yaakov brought them across the river at night, and did not wait for daybreak.  He saw a great flame hovering over his camp, and decided to cross the river immediately so that it would separate him from the fire. (Zohar; Tazria 45a)

Within in the name יַעֲקֹב (Yaakov) is the mystery of "Yabok" whose letters יבּק stand for the words "y'anainu b'yom karainu" (on that day He will answer us); the mystery of Yabok is very, very deep because three Names of G-d numerially equal "Yabok." (Yalkut Reuveini, Aikev2)

According to every other usage of this phrase, it always refers to G-d redeeming the Jewish people from exile once-and-for-all, an awesome day in history.  This would make a lot of sense, given that the rabbis view Yaakov's all night struggle with the angel of 'Esav as an allusion to the "night" of exile the Jewish people were destined to endure (Bachya; Targum Yonatan; Tanchuma).  Surviving the angel and proving victorious in the morning is, therefore, the allusion to the Jewish people reaching the Final Redemption in the days of Mashiach.

Of all the accounts in the Torah, very few are the source of as much symbolism as the battle with the angel that night.  Therefore, the more symbolic the struggle was for Yaakov to become Yisrael, the more symbolic the name "Yabok" becomes of that struggle.  Yaakov was the twin brother of 'Esav; Yisrael is not, and the Yabok river, therefore, symbolizes the transformation from Yaakov to Yisrael:

If a person will endeavor to learn the hidden wisdom of Torah, that is, the secrets of Torah (Kabbalah), then he will merit to receive his Neshamah (third level of soul after Nefesh and Ruach)...and add level to level, and wisdom to wisdom, then he will be called a "Complete Person" (Adam Shalaim).  When a person only has his Nefesh, then he receives only from א-ד-נ-י (Ad-nai).  If he merits to receive his Ruach, then he receives from י-ה-ו-ה; when he learns the mysteries of Torah, then he receives also from א-ה-י-ה.  When the three Names are added together, the gematria is "Yabok" (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 18, p. 51)

From this quote of the Arizal, it is clear that "Yabok" is not merely the name of the river by which Yaakov just happened to meet an angel, fight with him, prevail, and receive a name change.  Yabok is the word that alludes to the very spiritual perfection - and redemption - that transforms a "Yaakov" into a "Yisrael."  This is why, perhaps, the name of Yaakov itself has the word yabok within it, as if to allude to Yaakov's potential to become a Yisrael.

And, this is why Yabok speaks of the time that G-d will answer us, because that is the day of redemption, the time that we stop being the twin brother of 'Esav and stop sharing his tendencies, which we have done so meticulously at times throughout history.  We have been, to borrow the vernacular, "better Greeks than the Greeks themselves" in just about every era. Yaakov may have physically crossed the Yabok river thousands of years ago, but every Jew since has had to cross his own Yabok river at some point in time, to become a true and eternal Yisrael.

This is why Yaakov went out of his way to confront the angel of 'Esav to expunge all elements of 'Esav within himself.

32:25 Vayivater Yaakov levado vaye'avek ish imo ad alot hashachar
Yaakov remained alone. A man wrestled with him until daybreak.
According to Midrash Rabbah (77:2), Yaakov wrestled with an angel and not just any angel, but the protecting angel of Edom, the future nation of his brother, 'Esav.

This occurred on a Tuesday night (the eve of Wednesday, the fourth day of the week), the night when the moon had been created (1:16) (Zohar, Toledot 146a.  The Zohar also states that this was because the forces of evil have power in the dark of the moon.  Perhaps the date was also 28 Elul, the date upon which the moon was created (Pirkei Eliezer 8).  According to others, the moon was created on 4 Nissan; Vol. 1, p.227)

A man then appeared and wrestled with Yaakov until the first sign of dawn עֲלוֹת הַשַׁחַר (alot hashachar).

An angel disguised as a human being encountered Yaakov and began to argue, "You promised G-d that you would give him a tithe (tenth) of all you acquired (28:22). Here you have twelve sons and a daughter (Rachel was already pregnant with Benyamin).  Why have you not separated a tithe from your sons?"

Yaakov immediately began to calculate such a tithe.  First he set aside the first born of each of his four wives (Reuven, Yosef, Dan and Gad were thus separated).  Since a firstborn is automatically sanctified, they would not be included among the sons to be tithed.

Eight sons remained: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Zevulun, Naftali, Asher and Benyamin.  Yaakov counted them, and when he was finished, he began his count again: 1 Shimon, 2 Levi, 3 Yehudah, 4 Yissachar, 5 Zevulun, 6 Naftali, 7 Asher, 8 Benyamin, 9 Shimon, 10 Levi,.  It thus came out that Levi was the tenth; he was the tithe.

The Angel Michael then said, "Master of the Universe.  The tribe of Levi will be Your portion.  They will be the ones who will serve in Your Holy Temple." (Targum Yonatan; Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer.  Others begin with Benyamin and count backwards, here Levi is also the tenth.)

Not knowing the identity of the stranger, Yaakov reasoned that he must be some kind of magician or conjurer.  Feeling tricked, Yaakov became angry and began to wrestle with him, saying to himself, "A magician has no power at night (other than that of illusion)."  The stranger then threw a pebble at the ground, and it burst into a huge flame.  Yaakov then realized that the stranger was actually an angel.

This angel was actually none other than 'Esav's spiritual guardian, who wanted to harm Yaakov.  Yaakov said, "You are trying to frighten me with a little fire!  I am the very essence of fire!"  It is thus written, "Yaakov's house shall be fire, and Yosef's house shall be flame" (Ovadya 1:18) (Yalkut Shemoni)

The two wrestled until just before dawn.  In Hebrew the word for wrestle is הֵאָבֵק (he-abhek), from the root אבק (abhak) meaning dust.  Their battle literally caused dust to fly. (Rashi)

Yaakov was strong enough to defeat the angel; and he threw him to the ground.  The angel got up again, and began wrestling with Yaakov once more.  Yaakov continued to throw him down every time, until dawn broke. (Bereishit Rabbah; Yafeh Toar p. 439)

32:26 Vayar ki lo yachol lo vayiga bechaf-yerecho vateka kaf-yerech Yaakov behe'avko imo
He [the stranger] saw that he could not defeat him, and he struck the socket of his hip, Yaakov's hip joint was dislocated as he wrestled with him.
The angel saw that the Divine Presence was with Yaakov and he could never defeat him.

Yaakov was also wearing his tallit and tefillin, which caused all his enemies to be afraid.  it is written, "All the nations of the earth will see that G-d's Name is associated with you, and they will fear you" (Devarim 28:10) (Reshit Chachmah, Shaar HaKedushah 6)

The angel struck Yaakov in the hip joint. Some say that he hit him so hard that Yaakov's hip joint was broken, and the compound fracture was clearly visible. Others say that the hip was merely dislocated. (Yafeh Toar, p. 440)

Although the angel saw the Divine Presence with Yaakov, he still struck him.  The blow was accidental, without intent. (Yafeh Toar)

According to another opinion, The angel merely touched (נָגַע) him there.  In those days, it was a custom to carry important documents tied to the hip.  'Esav's guardian angel wanted to grab the contract through which 'Esav had sold his birthright.  He therefore touched Yaakov on the hip, to see if he could feel it.  He wanted to snatch it and tear it up. (Tzedah LaDerech)

The entire story might seem very puzzling. How can a mortal human defeat an angel?

This can be understood logically if we understand how an angel must behave when it comes ot the physical plane.  When G-d sends an angel to the physical world, it must disguise itself as a human-being, so as not to defy the laws of nature.  The same is true when a human being ascends to the spiritual plane.  When Moshe was in heaven for 40 days and 40 nights, he neither ate nor slept (Devarim 9:9-18).  Conversely, when the three angels visited Avraham, they joined him for dinner, as discussed in Parashat VaYera.

Here too, the angel had to appear as a human being without supernatural powers,.  He wrestled with Yaakov all that night. (Zohar, Toledot, Cf. Yafeh Toar, p. 440; Ralbag)

Normally, the angels live together in perfect harmony.  On that night, however, authority was given for one to gain power over the other.  Samael, 'Esav's guardian angel, overcame the spiritual guardians of all the other nations.  He then wrestled with Yaakov in an attempt to bring him under his power too.  Yaakov's merit, however, was so great that the angel could not defeat him.

The Torah thus says that the stranger "saw that he could not defeat him." Samael saw that Yaakov's merit was so great that he would never be able to bring him under his power.  The angel then struck Yaakov in the hip joint next to his organ of reproduction.  This showed that 'Esav would have power over Yaakov's descendants.  The hip joint is kaf ha-yerech, literally, "spoon of the hip."  Children said to emanate from "the loin" (yerech), especially those of Yaakov (see Bereishit 46:26).

Thus, on that night authority was given to 'Esav's guardian angel to have power over Yisrael if they sin and violate the commandments of the Torah. (Zohar Chadash, end of Noach)

Providence decreed that the angel would have to wrestle with Yaakov even though it was known that it could not defeat him.  It was to be a symbol for future generations.

A king once owned a powerful mastif and a lion cub.  Each day the king would have his young son play with the lion so that he would be afraid of the dog.  The dog, in turn, would not go near the child.  If a child has no fear of a lion, dogs certainly had better keep away from him.

The lion in the parable is 'Esav's spiritual guardian.  Since it was an angel, it was not really dangerous.  The mastif represents 'Esav's descendants who would become Yisrael's worst enemies.  When they realize that even their spiritual guardian was not able to defeat Yaakov, they will lose confidence, and not be able to attack Yisrael. (Bereishit Rabbah)

27 Vayomer shalcheni ki alah hashachar vayomer lo ashalechacha ki im-berachtani
He [the man] said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." He [Yaakov] said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
Angels sing before G-d, each in its appointed time.

The angel said to Yaakov, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking."

Why are you afraid to remain by day?" asked Yaakov.  "Are you a thief or a gambler who is afraid to show his face?"

"Not at all.  I am an angel.  Since I was created I have never yet had a turn to sing before G-d.  At dawn today it will be my turn." (Chullin 9 1b)

"I will not let you go unless you bless me.  I will hold on to you, even if I must do so for many years.  You must bless me, just as the angels who visited my grandfather Avraham blessed him before they left (18:10)."

"I cannot.  The angels who were sent to Avraham were sent specifically to bless him, and they had no other choice.  I cannot grant you a blessing on my own initiative." (Rashi; Zohar, Tazria)

The Hebrew berachtani (bless me) is actually in the past tense rather than in the future.  Yaakov wanted a confirmation on his past blessings.

"I repeat. I will not let you go until you bless me.  I want you at least to confirm the blessings that my father gave me, so that 'Esav will no longer have any claim to them.  I also want to be sure that you yourself will never try to denounce me."

32:28 Vayomer elav mah-shmecha vayomer Yaakov
He [the man] said to him, "What is your name?" And he replied, "Yaakov."
Finally, the angel said, "I will reveal a great secret to you.  If I am reprimanded on high for revealing it, I will , 'Master of the Universe.  You are the Master of all creation, but tzaddikim can utter a decree and you do not annul it.  How can I, a mere angel, go against Yaakov's decree?  Obviously, a tzaddik such as he is greater than any angel.'"

32:29 Vayomer lo Yaakov ye'amer od shimcha ki im-Yisrael ki-sarita im-Elokim ve'im anashim vatuchal
He [the man] said, "No longer will your name be spoken of as Yaakov, but as Yisrael, for you have contended with God[ly beings] and with men, and you have won."
The Hebrew word for "great" here is שָׂרִיתָ (sarita) and it can also mean to "struggle" or to "contend."  "G-d" here is Elokim which also denotes angels and judges.

The angel said, "This is the great secret. G-d is about to reveal Himself to you in Bet-el.  There He will inform you that your name will no longer be Yaakov but Yisrael (35:10).  You have struggled with divine beings and have overcome them; and you are also great before G-d.  You have wrestled with powerful men such as Lavan and 'Esav and you have overcome them. (Rashi)  You are so great before G-d that your image is engraved on His Throne of Glory.  You have also wrestled with 'Esav's spiritual guardian who is an angel, and you have overcome him. (Bereishit Rabbah)  Until now your name has been יַעֲקֹב (Yaakov).  This denotes trickery, going behind people's backs (akav). People might therefore think that you took the blessings unfairly and through guile. But now your name will be יִשְׂרָאֵל (Yisrael) .  The letters spell out יָשָׁר אֵל (Yashar E-l), 'G-d's honest man.'  G-d Himself will confirm your blessings in Bet-el, and I too will confirm them. (Rashi). Changings one's name can also help annul a decree. (There may be a decree that 'Esav will kill Yaakov, but you will no longer be spoken of as Yaakov.  Now that your name is Yisrael, you can feel safe and not fear." (Ralbag)

32:30 Vayish'al Yaakov vayomer hagida-na shmecha vayomer lamah zeh tish'al lishmi vayevarech oto sham
Yaakov asked him, and said, "Please tell me your name." He said, "Why then do you ask my name?" He then blessed him [Yaakov] there.
"Why do you ask my name? said the angel.  "Don't you know that we angels do not have fixed names?  We are named according to our mission.  If G-d sends an angel to cure (rafa) a sick person, that angel's name is automatically Rafael. If an angel is sent to help (azar) someone, its name is Azriel.  In this manner, our names are constantly being changed.  I cannot tell you my name. It would be of no use to you, because tomorrow it will be changed. It is not proper to for an angel to reveal its name, since this can cause pride.  People will speak of us and describe the miracles that each angel performed.  Obviously, we do nothing of our own.  We are nothing more than G-d's agents.  Whatever we do depends on G-d's Will; we only carry it out. (Rashi; Bereishit Rabbah)

Yaakov was not satisfied that the angel merely confirmed Yitzchak's blessings.  He did not let the angel go until it had given him its own blessing.  The angel said, "May G-d bless you and protect you. (BaMidbar 6:24)  May it be His will that your descendants be tzaddikim like yourself." (Rashi; Yalkut Shimoni; Bachya; Zhoar, Toledot)  The angel conceded then to the blessings that Yitzchak had given him.

32:31 Vayikra Yaakov shem hamakom Peni'el ki-ra'iti Elokim panim el-panim vatinatzel nafshi
Yaakov named the place Peniel [G-d's Face], "For I have seen G-d[ly beings] face to face, and my soul has survived."
Here again, the word Elokim, which is translated as "G-d: can also refer to angels.  The verse may be read, "For I have seen an angel face to face..."

Yaakov said, Although I have seen angels on my occasions, this time it was a great miracle, since I wrestled hand to hand with a divine being.  I saw an angel face to face - there was anger in both our faces as we fought each other.  One may wonder why I am so happy.  After all, my hip socket was broken.  But still I have withstood it.  The fact that I survived is a great enough miracle, especially since I was alone with the angel at night in a field." (Alshikh)

Reviewing everything that we have written up to this point, we see that Yaakov was blessed four times (Zohar, Toledot 146a):

  1. Yitzchak blessed him when he had brought him a tasty dish (27:28-29).  This was a very great blessing.
  2. Yitzchak blessed him when he set off to Padan Aram (28:3-4).
  3. G-d blessed him after he came home from Padan Aram (35:9)
  4. The angel blessed him after he wrestled with him (32:30)
When Yaakov reviewed all these blessings he said to himself, "Upon which of these blessings shall I rely now?"  After much thought, he decided to make use of the weakest of them, the blessing that Yitzchak had given him before he set off to Padan Aram.  Although the other blessings were also very precious, they were not as significant as the first ones.

Yaakov said, "Now I will make use of that blessing.  The other blessings I will set aside for my descendants in the future.  When the nations come together and wage war against my children, they will need them more than I do."

A king had many powerful soldiers.  When news reached him that a highwayman was robbing travelers in the area, he sent two of his soldiers to kill him.  People asked the king, "You have so many soldiers; why didn't you send more to capture the thief?"
"For a thief such as he," replied the king, "two are sufficient.  I must keep the rest of my army intact in case there is a major war."

 Yaakov's reasoning was very similar.  "My father's second blessing, which is the weakest of all, is sufficient for my present predicament.  Let me keep the more powerful blessings in reserve for my children.  When great world powers attack them, the other blessings will be their shield." (Zohar)

32:32 Vayizrach-lo hashemesh ka'asher avar et-Penu'el vehu tzolea al-yerecho
The sun shone upon him as he passed by Penuel, and he limped due to his hip.
33 Al-ken lo-yochlu veney-Yisrael et-gid hanasheh asher al-kaf hayarech ad hayom hazeh ki naga bechaf-yerekh Yaakov begid hanasheh
Therefore, the children of Yisrael must not eat the displaced nerve which is on the hip joint to this very day; because he struck Yaakov's hip joint on the displaced tendon.
This is one of the 365 negative mitzvot ("you shall not") in the Torah.  Here we will explain some of the pertinent laws regarding the גִיד הַנָשֶׁה (gid ha-nasheh) the "displaced nerve." (All these laws are found in Yoreh Deah 65)  Morphologically, the "displaced nerve" is the sciatic nerve (nervus ischiadicus - literally "moved nerve"). In humans, it is the large nerve that runs down the back of the thigh.

This nerve is forbidden in all mammals, both domestic and wild.  It is not, however, forbidden in fowl.  This is because the Torah forbids the "displaced nerve on the hip joint."  The Hebrew for "hip joint," כַּף הַיֶרֶךְ (kaf ha-yerekh) which literally means "spoon of the thigh."  The term "spoon" refers to a muscle structure that is raised and convex like a spoon.  The Torah forbids us to eat the nerve that is found in the raised convex muscles on the hip joint.  In cattle, the entire hip is very much like the back of a spoon or like a club.  In birds, on the other hand, the muscles on the hip bone (femur - the bone above the drumstick) are not convex, but like flat against the body. (Chullin 7:1 89b)

If a bird has convex muscles on its hip bone like that of an ungulate, the sciatic nerve should be completely removed before it is eaten. (Chullin 92b; Yoreh Deah 65:5)

Eating the sciatic nerve of a mammal is like violating any other negative mitzvah of the Torah and its prescribed penalty is lashing.  In ancient times, when the Sanhedrin exerted power, a penalty of 39 stripes could actually be enforced. (Chullin 96b)

The nerve is forbidden in both the right and the left hind legs.

Each hind quarter contains two forbidden nerves in the haunch.  One sciatic nerve is toward the inside and next to the bone.  This is forbidden by the Torah.  The other, the common peroneal nerve, is toward the outside closer to the muscles.  It is forbidden by rabbinical legislation.  Both must not be eaten. (Chullin 91a, 93b; Pesachim 83b; Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, negative mitzvah 139; Yoreh Deah 65:8; Bet Yosef, ibid.  In a cow the sciatic nerve is highly visible in the hindquarters, and is almost as thick as a hose.  The great sciatic nerve is derived from the lumbo-sacral plexus, and it merges from the pelvis, descending behind the hip joint, and then behind the femur of the thigh.  The sciatic nerve gives off a number of branches to the muscles behind the femur, but its longest branch is the common peroneal nerve.  Actually, the sciatic nerve consists of the tibial and common peroneal nerves enclosed in a single sheath.)

Before a hind quarter can be eaten, both of these nerves must be removed in their entirety.  The fat surrounding them, as well as the smaller nerves attached to them, must also be removed. (Yoreh Deah 65:8)

The sciatic nerve is called the "displaced nerve" (gid ha-nasheh) because eating it causes one's thoughts to be displaced and brings him to forget the fear of G-d.  This nerve is the dwelling of the Yetzer Ra (Evil Inclination)

When one purges the hind quarter of the sciatic nerve, he must first sever the tendons connecting the thigh bone (femur) to the hip bone (ischium).  This is where the roots of the nerves are found, and they are in proximity to these tendons. One then severs the tendons converging on the hock (tzomet ha-gidim), behind the knee.  The nerves must be removed totally, not leaving even those as thin as a hair.  He must remove the six nerves in the haunch which appear like strings; (the six are most probably the sciatic, femoral, cutaneous, sephenous tibial, and common peroneal nerves.  Certain blood vessels must also be removed) and he must also remove all the fat covering the sciatic nerve.    The art of removing the forbidden nerves from a hind quarter is not something that one can learn from a book.  He must learn it by apprenticeship under the guidance of an expert. (Yoreh Deah 65:8 in Hagah)

Since removing the forbidden nerves is a lengthy and costly process, the hindquarters of kosher-slaughtered animals are usually sold to non-kosher butchers, and not used for the kosher trade.  In Yisrael, however, the nerves are removed, and the hindquarters are eaten.

All that is required is that the nerve, together with a small amount of meat surrounding it, be removed and the rest can be eaten.

The Encounter

33:1 Vayisa Yaakov eynav vayar vehineh 'Esav ba ve'imo arba-me'ot ish vayachatz et-hayeladim al-Leah ve'al-Rachel ve'al shtei hashfachot
Yaakov raised his eyes and saw that 'Esav was coming, and with him there were four hundred men. He then divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two handmaids.
At first Yaakov took his entire family with him.  He was sure that they would survive the encounter, both because of his prayer and because he was confident that he could defeat 'Esav in battle. Yaakov was a powerful man; with one hand he was able to move a huge boulder from the mouth of a well (29:10).  But when he saw that 'Esav had 400 kings with him, along with all their armies, he began to be very apprehensive.  He could no longer rely on his prayers, since he was too nervous to concentrate on his worship.  His fear also made him weak. (Bereishit Rabbah)

He therefore divided his sons into three groups: Rachel's sons, Leah's, and the two handmaids'.  The most important were placed in back.

If 'Esav attacked the mothers and children, he would reach the handmaids first.  The Torah is not telling us that yaakov was actually willing to sacrifice Bilhah, Zilpah and their sons.  All of his sons were destined ot become tribes of Yisrael, and were very important to him.  Yaakov, however, knew that the Divine Presence rested in the tents of Rachel and Leah, and he was not apprehensive about them.  He therefore first prayed that G-d would allow Bilhah, Zilpah and theri sons to survive. Only then did he pray for Leah and Rachel, in order to further insure their safety.

33:3 Vehu avar lifneihem vayishtachu artzah sheva pe'amim ad-gishto ad-achiv
He went ahead of them, and he prostrated himself to the earth seven times, until he approached his brother.
Like a faithful father, Yaakov placed himself in front of his wives and children.  He said, "If 'Esav attacks, let him meet me first, so that they will not be harmed."  The Torah therefore says that he went on ahead of them - at a distance.  If 'Esav attached in force, Yaakov would have room to contend with him.  Still Yaakov wished to avoid force.  As a conciliatory gesture, he prostrated himself on the ground seven times before he reached 'Esav.

33:4 Vayaratz 'Esav likrato vayechabekehu vayipol al-tzavarav vayishakehu vayivku
'Esav ran to meet him. He hugged him and fell on his neck and kissed him. They [both] wept.
'Esav had pity on Yaakov and kissed him with all his heart.  He saw that Yaakov had subjugated himself to him, and that he had bowed down so many times.  Furthermore, 'Esav had heard that Yaakov had said, "I have been staying with Lavan" (32:5).  Just as Yaakov feared 'Esav, 'Esav also feared Yaakov.  'Esav assumed that if Yaakov was able to escape Lavan's clutches, he must have been a great master of the occult arts.(Zohar)

Yaakov's actions may seem very surprising. The Torah says, "You shall not bow down to another god" (Shemot 34:14).  Since 'Esav had set himself up as a god, how could Yaakov bow down to him?

Yaakov did not bow down to 'Esav.  Yaakov actually prostrated himself before the Divine Presence, which had come to help him.  'Esav, however, assumed that Yaakov was bowing to him. (Zohar)

33:16 Vayashav bayom hahu 'Esav ledarko Se'irah
On that day 'Esav returned on his way - going to Seir.
There is no mention here of 'Esav's 400 men.  A miracle occurred for Yaakov, forcing 'Esav to return home alone.  All the men who had come with 'Esav deserted him.

Initially, when 'Esav acquired his men's cooperation, he told them, "Come, let us all go out together to greet Yaakov."  It was not until later that they discovered his nefarious plans.  They also saw Yaakov in person, and they recognized that he was a very holy individual.  At that moment that Yaakov and 'Esav kissed, all of 'Esav's men deserted, leaving him by himself.

Virtually fleeing, they said, "We better not stay here.  We might get burned by Yaakov's fire!"  G-d rewarded them, and these were the same 400 men who escaped when King David battled the Pelishtim (Shmuel 30:17). G-d does not ignore any good deed in this world.(Bereishit Rabbah)

17 VeYaakov nasa Sukkotah vayiven lo bayit ulemiknehu asah sukkot al-ken kara shem-hamakom Sukkot
Yaakov traveled to Sukkot and built himself a house, and for his livestock he made shelters. He therefore named the place Sukkot.
In Sukkot, Yaakov built a fortified castle, so that he would be safe from 'Esav.  He also built shelters for his livestock, so he named the place Shelters, or סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) in Hebrew.

It does not seem logical that Yaakov would give the place the name Sukkot merely because he made shelters for his animals there.  This verse suggests that Yaakov did not given any consideration to the worldly.  He was only interested in "building himself a house."  His entire goal was to build a house, to construct for himself a permanent structure in the Olam HaBah (World to Come).  This he would do through observing the commandments and doing good deeds.  This was Yaakov's permanent environment as is a house.

But for his livestock and other business needs, he made temporary shelters.  He gave no thought to the worldly.  This was the reason he named the place Sukkot. (Chen Tov)

Yaakov remained in Sukkot for 18 months. (Megillah 17a; Seder Olam; Rashi)  According to another opinion, he remained there for nine years. (Bereishit Rabbah - Levi was 13 when Dinah was raped. Levi was born in 2195, while Yosef was born in 2199, the same year Yaakov decided to leave Lavan.  Yaakov remained an additional 6 years, and therefore left in 2205.  If he remained 9 years in Sukkot, he did not leave there until 2214, when Yosef was 15 and Levi was 20.  This opinon might hold that Levi was 20 when he attacked Shechem; He was called a "man" since at the age of 20, one gains majority with regard to the sale of real estate.)

During the entire period Yaakov was in Sukkot, he sent 'Esav gifts each month, since he was still afraid of him. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Some say that Yaakov remained in Beit-el, where he engaged in business in order to earn enough money to be able to immerse himself totally in Torah study later on.  This is the main desire of a truly spiritual person.

33:19 Vayiken et-chelkat hasadeh asher natah-sham aholo miyad benei-Chamor avi Sh'chem beme'ah ksitah
He bought the part of the field where he had spread his tent, from the sons of Chamor, father of Shechem, for one hundred kesitahs.
Each קִשִׂיטָה (kesitah) was equivalent to a sela (a coin weighing the same as two shekels, and worth approximately $1.  The field was therefore bought for approximately $100 in modern money.) (Bereishit Rabbah; Ralbag)  The kesitah in that time was a universally accepted coin.

Actually, Yaakov did not intend to spend a long time in Shechem, since he was in a hurry to reach his father Yitzchak.  Yaakov bought that plot of land near the city from Shechem because he wanted to build an altar there.  If he did not own the land, the altar would be destroyed as soon as he left.

Of course, Avraham and Yitzchak had built many altars without buying property.  Their altars, however, were usually in mountains and other uninhabited areas, where the land had no owners.

33:20 Vayatzev-sham mizbe'ach vayikra-lo Kel-Elokei-Yisrael
He erected an altar there and called it, "the Almighty is G-d of Yisrael."
Since G-d had been with Yaakov and had rescued him, he named his altar after G-d.  This would sever a sa constant reminder of the miracle that He had done and help to publicize it.

Yaakov named the altar "Almighty is G-d of Yisrael."  He was saying, "G-d, the Master of the Universe, is also my G-d, since my name is now Yisrael."

Yaakov arrived in Shechem on a Friday, shortly before sunset.  Although the Torah had not yet been given.  Yaakov observed all the commandments.  (Soon it would be the Shabbat, and if he di not own the property upon which he was camped, he would not be able to leave his house.)  He therefore bought the piece of open land and made an eruv, allowing him to walk 2000 cubits in every direction. (Bereishit Rabbah)

35:8 Vatamot Devorah meyneket Rivkah vatikaver mitachat leVeit-el tachat ha'alon vayikra shmo Alon-bachut
Devorah, Rivkah's nurse, died, and she was buried below Beit-el, under the oak. He named it Weeping Oak.
In VaYetze, Rivkah had sent her nurse Devorah together with Yitzchak's servants to tell Yaakov to return to Chevron. (Yoreh Deah 23, 24)  The Torah now tells us that she died along the way. (Rashi)

She was buried, "below Beit-el."  Shechem is on a high plateau, and she was buried near its bottom, on the flat prairie. (Rashi)  At the bottom of this plateau there was an oak tree. (Targum Yerushalmi)

The place was named Weeping Oak (Alon Bachut).  In Greek, alon means "another."  This was also the "Weeping for another," since Rivkah also died at this time. (Rashi; Bereishit Rabbah; Targum Yerushalmi)

The Torah is silent on the death of Rivkah.  She was buried quietly at night, since there was no one to arrange her funeral or accompany her bier.  Avraham was already dead, Yitzchak's eyesight was too bad for him to leave the house, Yaakov was on the way from Padan Aram, and 'Esav - it was better that he did not attend.

The place was therefore named Alon Bachut which can also be read as Alon Bachot, "Oak of Weepings" in the plural.  There was weeping for Devorah, and the weeping for Rivkah who had also died. (Bachya)

Actually, the name was given to the place primarily because of Rivkah.  Yaakov obviously woul dnot have mourned so greviously for an old nurse as to name a place in her honor. The main mourning was for Rivkah, who had advised him to go to Padan Aram, but did not live to see him return. (RaMBaN)

This occurred in the year 2206 (1555 b.c.e.) when Yaakov was 98 years old. (Yafeh Toar, p. 454)

35:9 Vayera Elokim el-Ya'akov od bevo'o miPaddan-aram vayevarech oto
G-d again appeared to Yaaakov, when he came from Padan-aram, and He blessed him.
 The Torah tells us that G-d appeared to Yaakov a second time on his way back from Padan Aram in exactly the same place where he had first appeared to him when he left for Padan Aram. (Rashi)  Regarding Yaakov, it is written, "Blessed are you when you come; blessed are you when you go" (Devarim 28:6) (Bereishit Rabbah)

G-d said, "Let this be a sign that I will also appear to you when you go down to Egypt (46:2).  You will be blessed far beyond even Avraham and Yitzchak, since My Name will be associated with you. All the world will refer to Me as "G-d of Yisrael." (Yafeh Toar, p. 453)

35:10 Vayomer-lo Elokim shimcha Ya'akov lo-yikare shimcha od Ya'akov ki im-Yisra'el yihyeh shmecha vayikra et-shmo Yisra'el
G-d said to him, "Your name is Yaakov. No longer will your name be Yaakov, but Yisrael will be your name;" and He named him Yisrael.
The angel Michael told Yaakov that G-d would reveal Himself to him in Beit-el to change his name.  One may wonder at this name change.  Later, we find that the name of  Yaakov is still used, and the same it true in coming chapters. Even G-d Himself later addressed him as Yaakov (46:2)  G-d did not change his name.  He merely gave him an additional name; from now on Yisrael would be his main name, and Yaakov would be secondary. (Berachot 13a)

We actually see this from G-d's words:  "Your name is Yaakov.  No longer will you be named Yaakov, but Yisrael will be your name."  The expression, "Your name is Yaakov," here appears completely redundant.  G-d was saying, "Your name is still Yaakov.  It is not being taken away from you.  From now on your name will not only be Yaakov, but Yisrael will also be your name.  You will have the advantage of two names; the first Yisrael, and the second Yaakov." (Bereishit Rabbah, Lech Lecha)

Yaakov was different from Avraham.  In Lech Lecha (17:5), we saw that G-d changed Avram's name to Avraham, and from then on it became forbidden to address him as Avram.  This, however, was not true of Yaakov.

Avraham's name was changed in order to change his destiny.  At first he was called Avram, which indicated that he was master (av) of the people of Aram.  His influence only extended to his neighbors, and he would not have children who would be his spiritual heirs.  Then his name was changed to Avraham which indicated that he would be a "father to a multitude of nations" (17:5), that is, to the tribes of Yisrael.  For this reason, he is no longer referred to as Avram at all.  As soon as he had children, the name Avrama no longer fit.

Yaakov, on the other hand, was given the name Yisrael to indicate that he had contended with an angel and had emerged victorious (32:29).  Yisrael is therefore merely a sign of his great status. If he is called Yaakov, it is not wrong.

The same is true of Sarah.  Although G-d changed her name from Sarai to Sarah, there is nothing wrong with calling her Sarai.  The name Sarah was given to her to emphasize that from now on she would be a Matriarch (sarah) recognized by all the world. (Maharsha)

Furthermore, the name Avram had been given by his father Terach, who was an idolator.  Since G-d changed his name to Avraham, it is not proper to address him as Avram, the name given him by Terach.  The name Yaakov, however, was also divinely given, as we have written in Parashat Toledot. (Yafeh Toar, p. 272d)

12 Ve'et-ha'aretz asher natati le-Avraham ule-Yitzchak lecha etnenah ulezar'acha achareycha eten et-ha'aretz
The land that I gave to Avraham and Yitzchak, I will give to you; and to your offspring after you I will give the land."

Parashat VaYetze

Parashat VaYetze
Bereishit 28:10 - 32:3

Parsha Summary

Yaakov's ladder (sulam)
Yaakov meets Rachel
Yaakov marries
Birth of the eleven Tribes
Yaakov's journey home

Yaakov's Dream
28:10 Vayetze Ya'akov mi-Be'er-sheva vayelech Charanah
Yaakov left Beer-sheva and went toward Charan.
At the end of the previous parsha, we saw that Yaakov had heeded the advice of his father and mother and had set out for Padan Aram (Charan) (28:7).  The statement here might therefore seem redundant, but it teaches us three lessons:

  1. Although Yitzchak and Rivkah told Yaakov to go to Charan, he did not want to leave the Holy Land. It may be permissible to leave in order to find a wife, but this can be done by proxy, as in the case of Yitzchak.  Although Yaakov had to flee from Esav, he could have gone to the academy of Shem and Ever, where he would have been safe.  Living in the Holy Land is extremely precious, and one must do everything in his power not to leave.  At the time, Yaakov lived with his parents in Chevron.  Yaakov we to Beer-sheva since it was a holy place, the place where Avraham had built the altar.  There Yaakov asked G-d for permisson to leave the Holy Land.  When permission was granted, he went on his way. (Yafeh Toar, p. 395).  The Torah thus says, "Yaakov left Beer-sheva and went toward Charan."  Although his home was in Chevron, he left the Holy Land from Beer-sheva after seeking divine permission. (Bachya)
  2. When a tzaddik lives in a city, he is its beauty and radiance  (Rashi).  People are embarrassed to do wrong in his presence.  Eventually they learn to emulate his enlightened ways.  Even interpersonal relationships improve. When a tzaddik leaves a place, it remains without a shield.  Everyone does as he pleases; the young insult the old, since they have no one from whom to learn and no example to emulate. (Mizrachi).  Because Yaakov was embarking on a good deed, obeying his parents and seeking a wife, the Torah should have enumerated the number of animals and the amount of property that he took from his father's house.  The Midrash therefore questions why the Torah only says, "Yaakov left."  Even when a mere servant went on such a journey, the Torah said, "The servant took ten of his master's camels" (Bereishit 24:10).  Why not the same for Yaakov?  The Midrash replies that when Yaakov left, it made a great difference to the city.  His own departure was more obvious than that of any goods that he might have taken along.  Yitzchak and Rivkah remained behind.  One tzaddik, however, does not make as much impression as two.  It is very similar to precious stones; a two carat diamond is worth more than twice as much as a one-carat diamond.  A matched pair of particularly fine stones is also worth more than twice as much as each one individually.  The merit of a tzaddik is all the greater when he lives together with other tzaddikim.  Therefore, when Yaakov left, the merit of Yitzchak and Rivkah was diminished. (Bereishit Rabbah).  Similarly, in the case of medicine, a team of physicians can do much more than each one individually.  The group is thus greater than the sum of its parts.  This teaches us how we must mourn a tzaddik. If a tzaddik leaves one city for another it makes a great impression.  How much more is this true when a tzaddik leaves this world.  We must weep and mourn our great loss.
  3. Besides fleeing from Esav, Yaakov had another rason for leaving.  We saw that Avraham made an oath to Avimelech that he would not harm his children and grandchildren (21:23).  Yaakov was afraid that he would meet with Avimelech and would be forced to emulate his grandfather's oath.  If he had made such an oath, it would delay the conquest of the land of Kenaan that G-d was giving to his children.  Instead of counting three generations from Avraham, they would now have to count them from Yaakov.  As a result of the oath, Benei Yisrael would have to wait three generations from the time of Yaakov before invading the land.  In order to avoid this, Yaakov went to Charan.  The Torah therefore says, "Yaakov left Beer-sheva."  As we recall, Beer-sheva was the place where Avraham made the oath to Avimelech (21:31).  In order to avoid a similar oath, Yaakov left the city. He intended to return; but he left, hoping that the old Avimelech would die before he returned. (Yafeh Toar, p. 396)
When Yaakov was leaving Beer-sheva, Esav summoned his son Elifaz and gave him secret instructions, "Take your sword and intercept Yaakov on the road.  Do away with him and hide his body in the mountains.  You will then be able to take all the wealth that he has with him, and return home.  No one will be the wiser."

Yaakov was 63 years old when he received his father's blessing.  He then spent 14 years in the academy of Shem and Ever.  Therefore, when he set off toward Charan, he was 77 years old.  This was in the year 2185 (1576 b.c.e.)

28:11 Vayifga bamakom vayalen sham ki-va hashemesh vayikach me'avnei hamakom vayasem mera'ashotav vayishkav bamakom hahu
He reached the place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took some of the stones of that place, and arranged them around his head, and lay down in that place.
In VaYera we wrote about how Avraham ordained the daily morning service, and in Chayei Sarah, we wrote that Yitzchak ordained the afternoon service. Here we learn that Yaakov ordained the evening prayer.

Yaakov recited the evening service in the place where the Holy Temple was destined to be built. He then wanted to continue on his way but G-d said, "A tzaddik has come to My dwelling place. He cannot leave without spending the night." In order that he would stay, G-d miraculously caused the sun to set before its proper time. According to some, all the world became a great wall before Yaakov, not allowing him to leave that spot. If not for these miracles, Yaakov would have visited and then continued on his way. When he saw the sun set so suddenly, he realized that G-d wanted him to remain on Mount Moriyah that night.

Actually, Yaakov was not yet a true prophet. He had never been worthy of having G-d speak to him. Therefore, like other prophets, his first prophecy came to him at night in a dream. He would thus gradually become accustomed to prophecy: it is very difficult to experience the Divine Presence the first time when one is awake. (Yafeh Toar)

Since Yaakov was not accustomed to sleeping by day, Providence arranged for it to become dark. The sun set two hours before its regular time. (Bereishit Rabbah) As a result, Yaakov had to remain on Mount Moriyah.

Furthermore, since Yaakov was not yet married, he was not able to experience prophecy except in a dream.(Zohar, VaYetze, VaYishlach)

The time for the evening service (Maariv) is after the stars come out. Since it was actually two hours before night (as the sun had set prematurely), how could he have ordained the evening service? (Mizrachi)

Yaakov had returned to Mount Moriyah to recite the afternoon service (Minchah). This was ordained by his father Yitzchak. In order to cause him to remain there, G-d made the sun set two hours before its usual time. When Yaakov saw that it was too late for Minchah, he recited the evening service in its place.

The reason Yaakov placed a stone under his head was because he had foreseen the destruction of the Holy Temple. It is therefore a custom that some people place a stone under their heads when they go to sleep on the night of Tisha B'Av, in commemoration of what Yaakov did. (Orach Chayim 555)

He saw that the Holy Temple would be destroyed, and that 'Esav (Rome) would conquer Yisrael.

According to another opinion, Yaakov took three stones. He said "Since Avraham and Yitzchak were so great, G-d associated His name with them and spoke to them. If these three stones unite, I will know that I am no different than my fathers, and I will have the merit that G-d will speak to me when I wake up from my sleep, even though I am leaving the Holy Land to visit the wicked Lavan." (Bereishit Rabbah)

Others say that he took two stones. He said, "Avraham had such unseemly offspring as Yishmael and Keturah's sons. Yitzchak had an 'Esav. If these two stones become united, I will know that this will be true of only two patriarchs, and I will not have any unworthy sons. This will be true even though I am planning to marry Lavan's daughter."

Others maintain that Yaakov took twelve stones. He said, "I know that G-d wishes to have twelve tribes, paralleling the twelve signs of the zodiac. Neither my grandfather Avraham nor my father Yitzchak could have these twelve tribes. I therefore wish to know if I will be the one to father them. If these twelve stones become one, I will know that I will be the father of the twelve tribes." (Zohar, Pekudei)

These twelve stones were taken from the altar upon which Yitzchak was bound as a sacrifice. (Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer)

Logically, the opposite may have seemed preferable; Yaakov should have taken one stone and have had it become twelve. This would have seemed to be a clearer sign. Yaakov actually wanted to know whether the tribes would be united, without conflict between them. Each one of them could have become a separate kingdom, just as the sons of other men had in the past. But when he saw the twelve stones become one, he knew that things would work out well.

[Although it is forbidden to seek omens,] since Yaakov had only done this for symbolic reasons, it is not forbidden. It is no different from other permissible signs, which is discussed in Chayei Sarah.

Yaakov piled the stones up as a windbreak, to protect him from wild animals. The stones began to argue, each one saying, "Upon me shall this tzaddik rest his head." G-d ordered that all of the stones should coalesce and become one.(Chulin 91a) [Therefore, this verse says, "He took some of the stones" while later, the Torah says, "he took the stone." (28:18), in the singular.]

Logically, it may seem difficult to understand how stones can argue with each other. But, as we discussed in the Parashat Bereishit, even inanimate objects are overseen by angels on high. It was these angels that argued. (Tzedah LaDerech)

Although Yaakov was sleeping on the bare ground, and was apprehensive of his brother 'Esav, his sleep was undisturbed. He slept as peacefully as if he were in the finest bed; regarding him King Shlomo wrote, "You shall lie down and your sleep shall be sweet" (Mishlei 3:24). (Bereishit Rabbah)

Yaakov had not slept in a bed for fourteen years; during the time he studied Torah in the academy of Shem and 'Ever. He was so enthusiastic in his studies that he never made any arrangements to sleep, but merely dozed off on the spot, like King David. (Berachot 3b) The Torah therefore says, "He lay down to sleep in that place." Only "in that place" did he lie down, but elsewhere, he never lay down to sleep. (Rashi)

28:12 Vayachalom vehineh sulam mutzav artzah verosho magia hashamaymah vehineh mal'achei Elokim olim veyoredim bo
He had a dream, and behold a ladder was set up on the earth and the top of it reached toward heaven; and behold angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.

Yaakov saw a "ladder set up toward the ground" in Beer-sheva. (Bereishit Rabbah)  Its top was "reaching toward heaven," toward the Temple on high. (Rashi; Bachya)

Angels were going up and down on the ladder. Yaakov heard them saying, "Come O sun, come O sun!" Yaakov was being referred to as the "sun" because his merit illuminated the world. (Bereishit Rabbah - Yaakov is called "the sun," based on the verse, "For the sun had come." (28:11)

The ladder was very large and wide. It also stood on a three-legged throne, alluding to the fact that the world is supported by the merit of the three Patriarchs, and that Yaakov had become one of the pillars of the universe. (Chulin 91a)

[The minimum number of "angels" in plural is two.] Yaakov saw two angels ascending to heaven. These were the angels who accompanied him in the Land of Yisrael, who were now departing. It is not permitted for an angel to leave the Holy Land for somewhere else. Two other angels descended on the ladder; these were the angels who would accompany him after he left the Land of Yisrael. (Rashi)

Although Yaakov was on Mount Moriyah [in Yerushalayim, which is right in the middle of the Holy Land,] the angels of outside lands were given special permission to enter the Land of Yisrael so that they would be prepared to accompany Yaakov when he left. (Yafeh Toar)

Surrounding G-d's כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד (Throne of Glory) there are four angels known as Chayot. They have the form of a human being, a lion, a bull, and an eagle (Yechezkel 1:10). The angel having a human form had a face precisely like that of Yaakov.  The other angels were therefore amazed. They "ascended" and saw the Chayot, and then "descended" and saw the sleeping Yaakov with the same face. It was very difficult to them to understand how the same form could be in two different places. (Rashi; Chulin)

The angels then became very jealous of Yaakov and wanted to kill him. If he was so unique that his face was engraved on the Throne of Glory, how could he leave the Holy Land and go elsewhere? Besides, he is abandoning his father. (Yafeh Toar)

The angels said, "This man will inherit the entire world. He will dominate over every government! Let us kill him!" (Yalkut Shimoni; Bereishit Rabbah)

Meanwhile, there were other angels who spoke up in defense of Yaakov.

The Torah therefore can be read to say, "there were angels ascending and descending through him."

In heaven, things are not the same as here on earth. Here, one who speaks in favor of Yisrael is hated by the nations, while one who denounces Yisrael is honored and elevated to a position of leadership. In the world of the angels the opposite is true. Angels that speak against Yisrael are degraded, while those who defend her are elevated.

The Torah therefore says that angels were "ascending and descending through him." The angels who spoke up for Yaakov ascended to a higher level, while those who denounced him descended to a lower state. (Eicha Rabbah)

The angels who came to destroy Sedom sinned when they revealed their plans to Lot. G-d had not sent them to reveal to Lot what would happen, but only to rescue him. They also said, "We will destroy this place" (Bereishit 19:13). Since the angels were actually G-d's emissaries, they should not have said that they would do it. Instead they should have said that with His infinite power, G-d would destroy Sedom. Of course, they later told Lot to hurry out because they could not do anything as long as he was there (19:22); this was clear evidence that they were subject to a higher authority. Still, as we have mentioned a number of times, G-d is exacting to the hairsbreadth with saints; and all the more so with angels. The archangels were therefore punished by being exiled from the Divine Presence for 118 years. (Yafeh Toar, p. 292)

It was only now that these angels were released from their punishment, and given permission once again to "ascend" on high. This was because they had accompanied Yaakov on his journey from his father's house to Mount Moriyah. They informed the other angels, saying, "Come and see the great tzaddik Yaakov, whose face is engraved on the Throne of Glory. It is always a pleasure to behold his face." The other angels then "descended" to see him. (Targum Yonatan; Bereishit Rabbah)

The Torah therefore says that the angels were "ascending and descending because of him." The two angels who had gone to Sedom were "ascending," while the other angels were descending to see Yaakov. (Bereishit Rabbah)

28:13 Vehineh HASHEM nitzav alav vayomar ani HASHEM Elokei Avraham avicha ve'Elokei Yitzchak ha'aretz asher atah shochev aleyha lecha etnenah ulezar'echa
And behold HASHEM stood above it, and said, "I am HASHEM, G-d of Avraham, your father, and G-d of Yitzchak. The land upon which you are lying, I will give to you and to your descenants.
Since there were angels who wanted to harm Yaakov, G-d Himself became concerned for him. G-d stood at Yaakov's side, and all his opposing angels left. (Chulin 91a)

The Torah refers to all of the Land of Yisrael as, "The land upon which you are lying." This teaches that G-d folded all of the Land of Yisrael under Yaakov as he slept. This was so he would be able to take possession of it by making use of it (through chazakah, the act of taking it). (Zohar; Zohar Chadash)

G-d called Himself, the "G-d of Yitzchak." He said, "I do not normally associate My Name with tzaddikim during their lifetime, since man always has free will and can sin. But since Yitzchak is blind, he is considered like the dead. He no longer is subject to temptation.

G-d called Himself, "G-d of Avraham your father, and G-d of Yitzchak." Actually, Yitzchak was Yaakov's father, and Avraham was his grandfather. But Yaakov was afraid that the blessings that Yitzchak had given him would not be fulfilled, since Yitzchak had actually intended to bless Esav. In Chayei Sarah, was wrote that Avraham did not bless Yitzchak, since he would father 'Esav. When Yitzchak told Yaakov, "May He grant you Avraham's blessing" (Bereishit 28:4), he indicated that all of Yaakov's spiritual power came from Avraham.

Furthermore, as was wrote in Toledot, G-d accepted Yitzchak's prayer rather than that of Rivkah, because he was the son of a tzaddik, while she was the daughter of a wicked man . For all these reasons, Avraham was considered Yaakov's father even more than Yitzchak. G-d therefore told Yaakov, "I am the G-d of your father Avraham, and the G-d of Yitzchak." (Rashi; Abarbanel; Shama Shlomo)

G-d told Yaakov, "The land upon which you are lying, I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring will take over the entire land from the Kenaanim as easily as you took over the small plot of land upon which you slept. (Chulin)

At this time, G-d also promised Yaakov that he would be buried in the Holy Land. (Bereshit Rabbah)

28:14 Vehayah zar'acha ka'afar ha'aretz ufaratzta yamah vakedmah vetzafonah vanegbah venivrechu vecha kol-mishpechot ha'adamah uvezar'echa
Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth. You shall spread to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south. Through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth, and through your descendants.
In Hebrew, ים (yam) means "west," but it also means the "sea." The verse can therefore be read "You shall spread out to the sea." G-d said to Yaakov, "Through your merit, the [Reed] Sea will split when your descendants leave the land of Egypt. Through you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. When people wish to bless each other they will say, 'May you be like Yaakov and his children. (Ralbag)

28:15 Vehineh anochi imach ushmarticha bechol asher-telech vahashivoticha el-ha'adamah hazot ki lo e'ezovcha ad asher im-asiti et asher-dibarti lach
Behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, I will not forsake you until I have done that which I have spoken to you."
"I Myself will be with you. You will not be under the providence of angels as are other tzaddikim. (Ramban)

"Neither will you have to be concerned about 'Esav or Lavan. I will not abandon you until I have completed what I promised regarding you. I promised Avraham, 'To your offspring I will give this land' (12:7). It is only through you that this promise will be fulfilled. Esav is wicked; he is not considered to be the 'offspring' of Avraham and Yitzchak. (Rashi)

"Even when your descendants are downtrodden in the soil and scattered to the four winds, all the families of the earth will be blessed through them." (Mishkenot Yaakov)

As was wrote in Lech Lecha it was an act of kindness that G-d scattered Yisrael among all the nations, since this would guarantee their survival.

The Ladder

The ladder that Yaakov saw was also symbolic of Yisrael's future. G-d thus disclosed to Yaakov the entire future of the Jewish nation.

The ladder symbolizes the Great Altar that stood in the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim. Although it "stood on the ground," its "head was in heaven." The fragrance of the sacrifices would ascend on high, and G-d would cherish them very much. The "angels ascending and descending" allude to the kohanim (priests) who would offer the sacrifices (climbing to the top of the altar, and going down again). (Bereishit Rabbah; Zohar Chadash)

The ladder also symbolized the revelation at Sinai, and the fact that the Torah would be brought down from heaven there. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for "ladder," סֻלָם (sulam), is 130 - the same as that for סִינַי (Sinai). The "angels" allude to Moshe and Aharon, who "ascended" to heaven and "descended" with the Torah. They are properly referred to as "angels of G-d" since prophets are also called angels. The Hebrew word for angel, מַלְאָךְ (malach) also means messenger. (Tanchuma, VaYishlach)

Also alluded to here is the exile of the Benei Yisrael and the destruction of the Holy Temple. The Jews would suffer very much in the time of Nevuchadnetzar, who would make an idol sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (Dani'el 3:1).  The letters of סֻלָם (sulam) meaning "ladder" are the same as those of סֶמֶל (semel) meaning "statue" or "idol." The "angels" were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who "descended" into the fiery furnace, and "ascended" unscathed. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Yaakov's vision also teaches that the world is like a ladder, where some people "ascend" while others "descend." Some people become wealthy and attain status, while others become poor.

G-d also showed Yaakov that although he was lying on the bare ground, without even a pillow for his head, in the end, his "head would reach to the heavens."

G-d also showed Yaakov the form of the Holy Temple as it was built by King Shlomo. He then showed it destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. Finally, He showed Yaakov how it would be rebuilt in the Messianic Age, and then last forever.

Yaakov was also shown all the guardian angels of the great empires. The angel of the Babylonian Empire climbed up 70 rungs and then went down. The angel of the Persian Empire climbed 52 rungs and descended. The Greek Empire's angel climbed 180 rungs before it fell. The angel was able to climb a rung for each year that its empire would endure; then it would descend to indicate that the empire would fall.

Yaakov then saw the angel of Edom (Rome, western civilization) climbing the ladder, and he could not count how many rungs it climbed. He did not see it come down again. Very startled, he said, "But that is terrible. The civilization will last forever."

"Do not fear, Yaakov," replied G-d. "Although Edom's angel will climb until he is near the Throne of Glory, I will cast him down too. But you too will have to climb the ladder."

Yaakov was terrified. "What good is it to climb the ladder and to go down again like these angels?"

"I promise you," said G-d, "that you will ascend and never descend."

Still, Yaakov was insecure and he did not want to climb the ladder. It was then decreed that his descendants would go into exile four times, one for each of the empires that he saw.

In general, Yaakov saw the entire future in this dream. He saw the angels of each nation "ascending" and "descending.

This was Yaakov's dream.

28:16 Vayikatz Ya'akov mishnato vayomer achen yesh HASHEM bamakom hazeh ve'anochi lo yadati
Yaakov awoke from his sleep, and said, "In truth, HASHEM is in this place, and I did not know it."
"If I had known, I never would have gone to sleep in such a holy place."

28:17 Vayira vayomar mah-nora hamakom hazeh eyn zeh ki im-beit Elokim vezeh sha'ar hashamayim
He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven."
At first, Yaakov had assumed that he was still on Mount Moriyah, where he and his father had often worshiped. Since he had been there many times, the surroundings had a calming influence on him. But now that he saw that he was so terrified, he realized that he was actually in unfamiliar territory. He therefore said, "How fearsome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d's, and this is the gate of heaven." 

Yaakov was terrified because he was in the presence of a twin sanctity. First there was the sanctity of Mount Moriyah, the place of the ancient altar. There was also the sanctity of Beit-el or Luz, which was the "gate of heaven." "Since I am not familiar with this place, I am terrified."

This teaches how careful one must be not to sleep in the synagogue or any other place of worship or study. Since these are holy places, one must have as much respect as in a royal palace. What person would have the audacity to sleep in the king's chambers? No matter how sleepy he is, he would not be able to fall asleep out of awe of the king. This should be even more true of G-d's house.

When people come to study in synagogue during the long winter nights, they must be careful not to smoke or engage in idle chatter. This is especially true of the small daily prayer room, which is often built right next to the ark. When people worship early, they may not take a nap in the synagogue.

Speaking unnecessarily in the synagogue is a major sin. One who does so has no portion in the G-d of Yisrael, since he clearly shows that he has no respect for the Presence that is in the synagogue.

There are angels whose charge it is to look for people speaking in synagogue. When they see such a person, they place their hands on his head and say, "Woe is to this man who spoke in this place."

Conversing in synagogue [on the Shabbat) is tantamount to violating this holy day. This is especially true when the cantor is reading from the Torah. Everyone must then listen with awe, hearkening to the words just like when they were given at Sinai. During the Torah reading, it is forbidden even to read Psalms or other prayers; one must be as silent as if he had no mouth.

Even after the services are over, it is still forbidden to hold conversations in the synagogue. It is a holy and fearsome place, as Yaakov said, "How fearsome is this place."

Yaakov said, "This is a most unusual place. It is G-d's Temple. This will be the site of the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash), precisely opposite the spiritual Temple that is under G-d's Throne of Glory.

This place is also very important since it is the gate through which prayers are accepted. The Temple on earth parallels the spiritual Temple on high. It is the gate of heaven. This gate will be open many times to receive the prayers of saints.

When a person worships in Yerushalayim, it is just like praying directly before the Throne of Glory. The gates of heaven are open to accept prayer. This is the meaning of the verse, "This is the gate of heaven."

Yaakov got up early in the morning and took the stone that he had placed at his head. He erected it as a monument, and poured oil on its top.

Providence arranged for Yaakov to have a small flask of oil. He poured oil over it so that the miracle that had happened would be recognizable.

28:19 Vayikra et-shem-hamakom hahu Beit-el ve'ulam Luz shem ha'ir larishonah
He named that place Beit-el, but Luz was the original name of the city.
Yaakov named the place Beit-el or "House of G-d" because he had seen the Divine Presence there. The city's original name had been Luz.  The word Luz denotes an almond tree, and the city had been given that name because of the thick tree that covered its entrance. In the Parashat Bereshit, we wrote that the resurrection bone in man's spine is also called the Luz. This bone is indestructible and permanent. The city was named Luz because people did not die there, and the Angel of Death had no power in that city.

28:20 Vayidar Ya'akov neder lemor im-yihyeh Elokim imadi ushmarani baderech hazeh asher anochi holech venatan-li lechem le'echol uveged lilbosh
Yaakov made a vow, saying, "If G-d will be with me, and guards me on this path that I am going, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear;
21 Veshavti veshalom el-beit avi vehayah HASHEM li le-Elokim
And if I return in peace to my father's house, and HASHEM will be my G-d;
"If G-d will be with me, keeping all his promises, so that I will not lack anything. And if I return in peace, innocent of sin, not influenced by Lavan. If I am protected from spreading malicious gossip, from gazing at strange women and listening to them sing (since this is tantamount to lewdness), from publicly embarrassing another (which is considered like murder), and from purposely ignoring the poor (which is also like bloodshed). If Your name is associated with me from the beginning to the end, that none of my offspring should be unworthy, then I accept upon myself that:

28:22 Veha'even hazot asher samti matzevah yihyeh beit Elokim vechol asher titen-li aser a'asrenu lach
[Then] this stone which I have set [as] a monument will become the House of G-d, and of all that You give, I will surely give a tenth to You."
 "This stone will become G-d's Temple, especially designated for people to prostrate themselves to G-d."

This stone became known as the Foundation Stone (Even Shetiyah) upon which the Holy Temple was built. The stone stood in the Holy of Holies, and upon it the Holy Ark was placed.

Yaakov promised to separate a tithe of all that he would gain to G-d. This was a tenth of all his produce.

According to another opinion, he promised to separate a fifth, that is, a double tithe. Yaakov literally said, "Tithe, I will tithe it to You." In the future, the Torah would require such a double tithe, one tenth for the Leviim, and another tenth for the poor.

Yaakov did not make this conditional because he doubted G-d's promise. Rather, he was concerned lest the Evil Urge cause him to sin and thus prevent the promise from being fulfilled.

Some say that Yaakov made this conditional because the promise had come to him in a dream, and all dreams contain an element of fantasy. He therefore said, "If these things really come true, then I will give a double tithe and will make this stone into a permanent monument."


It would be well to contemplate the things that Yaakov asked of G-d. He only asked for bread and clothing, not for any luxuries. Tzaddikim only pray for the most absolute necessities, without which they cannot exist. They do not want anything that may be superfluous. They are therefore happy with whatever G-d grants them.

King Shlomo therefore said, "Give me neither poverty nor riches" (Mishlei 30:8). The wise Shlomo said that it is best to be neither wealthy nor poor, since both are bad. If a person is rich, he can easily become proud. All the world is his, and he does not give a thought to the next world. If a man is poor, he is likely to flatter others, lie and do other sins without realizing it.

Women should also learn a lesson, not to ask their husbands for more than they can afford. This will bring them punishment in the next world. As a result the men become so involved in their business that they cannot concentrate on their prayers, and cannot even recite one or two Psalms daily. They are too busy trying to satisfy their wives' taste for luxury. As a result, such husbands become involved in lies and false oaths, and do not properly pray to G-d.

A religious woman, on the other hand, makes do with what her husband earns. Her husband is able to live in peace and deal honestly in business.

If one contemplates the situation, he will see that G-d directs the world with great wisdom. G-d prepares everything as it is needed. Thus, for example, since wheat is necessary for the survival of the world, it is extremely plentiful. Shiploads are transported all the time. Precious stones, on the other hand, which are mere luxuries, are quite rare. Water, which is even more necessary than wheat, is all the more common, found even in wells along the road.

In this manner, the more necessary something is, the more common and inexpensive it is. G-d certainly could have created many beautiful stones, so that they should be inexpensive. But He does not want man to waste all his time on trinkets.

Yaakov understood this. He therefore only prayed for bread to eat and clothes to wear.


Actually, it is not good to be too quick to make vows. From this story of Yaakov, however, we learn that when a person is in trouble, it is a good deed to pledge money for charity or make a vow to study Torah.

The Torah therefore says, "Yaakov made a vow, saying (lemor)." As a general rule, wherever the Torah uses the expression "lemor," it indicates that the statement was meant to be told to others. Since no one else was present, to whom should Yaakov's message be conveyed? The Torah alludes to the fact that Yaakov's statement was meant to teach a lesson to all generations: in a time of trouble one may make vows to do good.

Although one does not actually do anything when he makes a vow, the merit of the good deed he intends to do protects him in advance and rescues him from trouble.

The Talmud relates that in the time of Rabbi Zeira, the government passed a law that Jews not be allowed to fast in times of drought. They did not wish it to be said that rain came because of Jewish prayers. Rabbi Zeira told the community, "Take it upon yourselves right now to fast; when the law is repealed, you will be able to fulfill your vow." As a result of the acceptance, great benefit came. The mere fact that they had vowed to fast resulted in the acceptance of their prayers.

When making a vow, one must associate it with Yaakov. In vowing charity for the sake of the sick, one should say, "G-d of Yaakov, heal my child and I will give so much to charity" or "and I will study a chapter each day" or, "and I will study a Mishnah each day" or "and I will say ten psalms each day." Since this is learned from Yaakov, his name should be mentioned.

Some say that one should not make a vow even in a time of trouble. Such vows could only be made in ancient times when people were sure to fulfill whatever they accepted upon themselves. Today, there are many possible obstacles that can prevent a person from fulfilling his vow.

It is therefore best not to vow at all. If one does not keep a vow, he causes himself great harm. Even if he nullifies the vow, it is not certain. The laws involving annulment of vows are extremely complex, and not everyone is expert in them. Even if three say that a vow is annulled, their action is not necessarily valid. It is therefore best before planning any good deed to say that it is "without a vow" (b'li neder).

If a person began to fast for the sick, or took upon himself to fast for a fixed number of days, he must fast all these days even if the patient recovers or dies in the interim. Similarly, if one vows to give a certain amount to charity, he must give it in full even if the patient has recovered or died.

However, if he later found out that the patient had already recovered or died by the time he made the vow, the vow is considered erroneous, and need not be kept.

A second lesson that we learn from Yaakov involves the transfer of something not yet in existence. In a secular business deal, the merchandise changing hands must actually be in existence. If something not yet in existence is sold, even if a legal act of sale is made, the sale is invalid. The only way that such a sale can be validated is if the seller makes an oath to uphold the sale.

In the case of consecration [to charity], this rule does not apply [and even something not yet in existence can validly be pledged]. Thus for example, if a person makes a promise, "If I make a hundred dollars, I will give ten to charity," he must make good his pledge, since this constitutes a vow.

In his prayer, Yaakov asked for "bread to eat and clothing to wear" (28:20). Obviously, bread is not worn and clothing is not eaten. But, as we wrote in Chayei Sarah, in prayer, one must specify precisely what he desires as much as is possible.

Yaakov also prayed that he be strong and healthy; if one is sick, he cannot enjoy his property. [He wanted to be healthy enough to eat his bread and wear his clothes;] and he therefore prayed for "bread to eat and clothing to wear." He did not want these things to merely be stored in a box.

Some say that Yaakov actually made this vow and said this prayer before he had the dream. G-d replied and said, 'I will fulfill your request with regard to everything other than income." It is always difficult for a tzaddik to earn a livelihood G-d wants their hearts always to be directed toward heaven, praying for their needs. He enjoys listening to their enlightened prayers.


MeAm Lo'Ez; Rashi; Bachya

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