It's hard to be Jewish. Weekly Torah portion "Vaishlach"

Nahum Purer

Returning to Eretz Israel after a 20-year absence, Yaakov learns that his brother Esav is coming to meet him with an armed detachment. Jacob takes measures to repel the threat: he divides his people and livestock into two camps, prays to G-d for help and sends peacekeeping gifts to Esau.

That same night, Yaakov is left alone and fights with Esau's guardian angel. Victory is for Yaakov, but his hip is injured. In memory of this injury, Jews are forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve of kosher animals. Jacob receives from the angel his second name - Israel. The face-to-face meeting between Yaakov and Esau ends peacefully, and they part ways. In the next episode, Shechem, the son of a Canaanite tribal leader, kidnaps and rapes Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and then, wanting to marry the girl, offers to become related to her family. The sons of Jacob pretend to agree, but set a condition: Shechem and all the men of his tribe must circumcise themselves. The condition is accepted. On the third day after the mass circumcision, Dina's brothers Shimon and Levi burst into the city and kill the entire male population. Yaakov, fearing revenge, condemns this punitive action. G‑d tells him to go to Beit El and build an altar there. After the death of Dvora, Rivka's nurse, G‑d appears to Jacob, blesses him and changes his name to Israel. On the way to Efrat, Rachel gives birth to Benjamin, Jacob's twelfth son, and dies after giving birth. She is buried along the road to Beit Lechem, and Yaakov erects a monument on the grave of his beloved wife. Isaac dies at the age of 180. Yaakov and Esau bury their father in the family tomb in Hebron. At the end of the section, Esau's immediate descendants are listed in detail.


“And Jacob was greatly afraid...” (32:8). The difficult fate of Jacob has many similarities with the fate of his grandfather Abraham.

Let us return to one of the previous sections of “Vaer”, at the end of which, immediately after the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham received a message from the “old homeland”: Milkah, the wife of his brother Nahor, gave birth to eight sons (listed by name), the youngest of whom Bethuel eventually became the father Rivka, Isaac's future wife, and Nahor's concubine Reuma had four sons.

Why do we need to know these family details? At first glance, the reason is clear: with such a dramatic device, the Torah introduces Rivka, prepares us for the meeting of Abraham's servant Eliezer with the Betuel family and the matchmaking of Isaac.

However, Rabbi Macy Gordon offers a different, deeper explanation. We need this information to compare the lives of two brothers: the “dissident” and “emigrant” Abraham and Nahor, who did not go anywhere and did not rush around with any global ideas.

Abraham had a difficult life. Back in the country of his birth, Ur-Kasdim, he fought bravely for his faith in the One G-d. He was thrown into a fiery furnace, but miraculously survived. Then, obeying the command of the Creator, at the age of 75 he went with his wife to an unknown country, where he experienced hunger, fear, trials, participated in wars, remained childless for a long time, suffered a family drama, when, at the behest of his wife (and G-d), he expelled from the house of his firstborn Ishmael along with his concubine Hagar. At the age of one hundred years, Abraham finally received the long-awaited heir, Isaac, but almost sacrificed him with his own hands. Needless to say, it’s a hard lot.

Meanwhile, his brother Nahor led a simple, quiet life, without cataclysms or storms: a wife, dear children, a concubine, and more children. Everything is like people. As they wrote in Soviet questionnaires: he was not a member, did not travel, was not involved.

The idea behind this juxtaposition is simple: it is difficult to be Jewish. We are always in sight, and our life is full of worries and worries. Elderly Jews who emigrated from the former USSR have no less burden of hardship behind them than Abraham Avinu: Stalinist purges, deprivation and hunger, a terrible war, the death of relatives, for some - camps and ghettos, difficult post-war years, “the fight against cosmopolitans.” ”, anti-Semitism, and at the end, when life finally returned to normal, difficult emigration and new trials, a second “birth” in a new homeland.

Yes, it is difficult to be Jewish. But it’s also an honor. After all, history is made not by the prosperous Nahor, but by the rebellious wanderer Abraham.

Gentle hint

“This is what you say to my master Esau: “This is what your servant Jacob said: I lived with Laban and stayed until now” (32:5).

Imagine this picture. The Prime Minister of the State of Israel, speaking before the United States Congress, warns the American authorities not to demand excessive concessions from the Israelis to the Palestinians, because “we observe all the commandments of the Torah.”

Even if this statement were true (which, of course, could only be welcomed), the Americans would have every reason to object: “Okay, Mr. Prime Minister, you are a good Jew and keep all your commandments to your health. But what do we care about that? We do not believe in your Torah; we have a New Testament."

Or, for example (let’s give free rein to our imagination), the Israeli Prime Minister received an invitation to speak at the Iranian Majlis and there he said: “Don’t threaten us, Persians. Nothing will work out for you, because we are faithful to the Torah and observe all its laws!” It is unlikely that the mullahs will be afraid of these words...

Then why does Rashi tell us in the commentary to the above phrase from today’s section that Yaakov made a veiled threat to Esau by using the word “garti”, I lived, whose gematria (numerical value) is 613? Thus, Yaakov warned his brother: “Even while living in the house of the wicked Laban, I carefully observed all 613 commandments of the Torah, and therefore do not mess with me. G-d will protect me."

But why does Esau care that Jacob kept the commandments? After all, he did not believe in the Torah. And if Yaakov wanted to intimidate Esau, then why didn’t he say it directly, but “wrapped” his threat in a numerological wrapper? Did he really expect Esau to understand this very subtle hint? ...Will he understand and be afraid?

The purpose of the commandment is to connect a person with G‑d. And not only by directly fulfilling His will, but also through a reminder of why this is necessary: because G‑d commanded me to do this, and, therefore, I am fulfilling G‑d’s will, thereby drawing closer to Him.

“I lived with Laban...” Addressing Esav, Yaakov reminded him that all his “defensive measures”, peacekeeping gifts to his brother, dividing all the people accompanying him into two camps and preparing for a military clash, were nothing more than physical actions, the purpose of which was to remind the main thing: G-d is the cause of all causes, and He has the final word in any situation.

To remind this, a subtle hint is enough.

Don't kill!

“And Jacob was greatly afraid and grieved...” (32:8). To understand these words, let us again turn to RASHI's commentary. Anticipating a confrontation with Esav, Yaakov “was very frightened” - he was afraid that he would be killed, “and he was upset” because he himself did not want to kill Esav.

Jewish law says: if someone wants to kill you, kill him first - this is a mitzvah, a religious commandment. Jacob, of course, knew this commandment. So why was he “upset”?

Before we answer, let us remember that long before this meeting with his brother and before his 22-year stay in “exile,” Yaakov bought the birthright from Esau, which allowed him and his descendants to conduct temple services as high priest. By the way, let us recall that the first Kohen, the Jewish high priest, was Jacob’s grandson, Aaron.

The legal code “Shulchan Aruch” says: if a kohen has killed someone, even by accident, he cannot ascend to the “dukhan” and raise his hands to bless the Jews present, because “his hands are in blood.” If bloody hands deprive the kohen of the right to pronounce a blessing, then even more so he is prohibited from a higher level of service - at the temple altar.

Therefore, if Jacob had killed Esav, he would have lost the right to serve in the Temple, and the purchase of the birthright (because of which Esav would eventually bitterly hate his younger brother) would have been in vain.

This is where you really get upset...