Vayishlach

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayishlach 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Moving Forward – Even When It Hurts”

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Parshat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) 

“Moving Forward – Even When It Hurts

Jacob wrestles with an angel. The Torah calls this person, this being, an ”ish” (man) (Genesis 32:25).

We’re not exactly sure if it is an angel. In fact, there are different approaches to this, which we discussed two years ago. I invite you to view it here.

But after Jacob is triumphant from this engagement, from this conflict, we’re told that his name is changed from Ya’akov to Yisrael, the Prince of God (Genesis 32:29), and we’re told that it is forbidden for us to eat from the sciatic nerve (Genesis 32:33).

This nerve, the sciatic nerve, represents the movement. It helps our movement forward and backward. It is the nerve from our hip to our knee.

And the message behind this prohibition, as stated by the Netziv, is the following: sometimes when we’re in a conflict, whether it’s with ourselves, in trying to improve ourselves, or with our family in trying to make a difference, or in the Jewish community or in society, sometimes the easiest thing – not the best thing, but the easiest thing – is just to stay stationary, is just not to engage, just to stay frozen in time.

The message of the prohibition of the sciatic nerve, the nerve that speaks about the movement forward, is the recognition of the fact that to make a difference, we have to be willing to engage.

When there is a struggle within ourselves, we have to be willing to make a difference in our lives.

When there is a struggle in our family and we can make a difference, we have to have the courage to do so.

And if we are going to be Yisrael, the Children of Israel, princes of God, we have to be willing to take a stand to help another Jew, to speak out when Jews are attacked, and to make sure that we can make a difference in humanity.

The prohibition of the sciatic nerve is a reminder that the responsibility of a Jew is always to move forward, never to be paralyzed by the situation.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And he said, Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed. And Jacob asked him and said, ‘Tell me, if you would, your name.’ ‘Why do you ask for my …

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Rabbi Shuki Reich - Photographer Rony Nathan

A Dialogue Between Alienated Relatives and Historical Lessons Rabbi Shuki Reich is Rosh Beit Midrash of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership and a Ra”m at Midreshet Lindenbaum Since time immemorial, the Torah has dealt with sibling rivalry and conversations of conflict.  The Torah begins with the primal story of Cain and Abel which …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayishlach 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Why is Rachel the Most Beloved Matriarch?”

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“Why is Rachel the Most Beloved Matriarch?”

Kever Rachel – Rachel’s Tomb – the site that some in the Jewish tradition have marked as the burial place of Rachel Imenu – Rachel our Matriarch – whose death occurs in this week’s parsha 

Each year, tens of thousands of Jews from throughout Israel and all over the world come to seek Rachel the Matriarch’s assistance in pleading their cases before God.

Why is it that Rachel has attained such a unique place in the Jewish People’s collective consciousness?

Why is she the matriarch who the prophet Jeremiah cites in connection with the Jewish People’s exile as they are forcibly removed from their land?

…רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל בָּנֶיהָ מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל בָּנֶיהָ כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ

…Rachel weeps for her children. She refuses to be comforted over her children, who are gone. Jeremiah 31:14

Why is she alone among the matriarchs and patriarchs to succeed in pleading with God to restore the Jewish People to the Land of Israel?

וְיֵשׁ תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ נְאֻם ה’ וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם

And there is hope for your future —declares Hashem:
Your children shall return to their country. 
Jeremiah 31:16

I would like to focus on one of the last recorded events of Rachel’s life – found in the Torah – that will help us understand the answer.

As Yaakov, Rachel and the rest of the family make their escape from Lavan, Rachel steals terafim – idols – from her father.

Lavan confronts Yaakov about his missing idols, suspecting that the thief is someone in Yaakov’s caravan.

And Yaakov, unaware of the fact that his beloved Rachel is the culprit, responds:

עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא אֶת אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא יִחְיֶה

Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not remain alive! Genesis 31:32

Soon after, Rachel gives birth to her second child while breathing her final breaths. She calls the baby “Ben Oni” — meaning, “the son of my treachery”. Genesis 35:18

This is such a tragic moment. Rachel recognizes that she is dying because of her misdeeds and Yaakov’s oath. 

And perhaps this is the reason why Rachel is the favorite matriarch: she is flawed and susceptible to transgression, but she demonstrates the capacity to recognize her failings as a process of teshuva. 

Sensing the process that Rachel has undergone, Yaakov then changes their son’s name from “Ben Oni” to “Binyamin,” meaning “the son of my strength”. Genesis 35:18

It is Rachel’s capacity to recognize her mistake and take responsibility for it that allows “Ben-Oni” to become “Binyamin”.

Sin transformed to virtue. 

Treachery replaced by strength.

Only someone like Rachel, who has the capacity to learn from past experiences, can represent the Jewish people in front of God and plead, 

“I’ve been there – I was able to come back. 

Please! Allow the Jewish people to come back, to return to their borders and renew their relationship with You!”

And so it is at Kever Rachel, that we pray to bring the Jewish People back to the Land of Israel and to attain forgiveness for the iniquities that caused our expulsion in the first place.

May we all merit our Mother Rachel’s everlasting advocacy on behalf of our  – and her – children.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel — “So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. And Jacob journeyed to Succot, and built himself a home…”  (Genesis 33:16-17) What is Jewish continuity? How might it be attained? Jewish organizations have spent many years and millions of dollars in search …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Insights from Rabbi Kenneth Brander into Torah and Contemporary Life

Parshat Vayishlach 5780

Sources cited

  • Genesis 32:25
  • Guide to the Perplexed, 2:42
Rabbanit Devorah Evron

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)  By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  We left Jacob at the end of last week’s portion as he was leaving behind Laban and Laban-land, heaven-bent on returning to the land of Abraham and to the house of Isaac. Jacob understands that his inner self has been …

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