Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)

This week, Jacob goes home.

When I was growing up, “home” meant a refuge from the outside world.  During my first year of college, it also meant food and TV.  Later, it meant a temporary respite from at-times-overwhelming grad school stress.  Once I was employed, married, and had kids, “home” became again what it is now, a place of warmth, rest, and love.

Jacob is not so lucky.  His journey back to Isaac is a long and meandering one.  Now free from Laban, he sends a message to Esau, letting him know what he’s been up to for the past 20 years (reminds me of reunions with people I haven’t had contact with for decades), and hoping to make up.  Esau’s response is to set out with 400 armed men.  Since Jacob can’t best Esau physically, he uses diplomacy, sending Esau a lavish gift of livestock.  Jacob prays and and divides up his household into two camps to protect them, unfortunately demonstrating his hierarchy of family favoritism in the process.  Alone that night, he wrestles with some “being,” emerging limping but with the promise of a new name, Israel.  This is one time Jacob uses physical strength, not guile, to triumph.

This wrestling episode has generated much commentary (surprise).  According to Rambam (Maimonides, 12th c.), Jacob is just having a dream and injures himself while thrashing about.  More commonly, the rabbis believe the “being” is an angel, whose re-naming of Jacob is made official by God later in the text.  For the rabbis living during under the Hadrianic persecution (ca. 132-135 C.E.), the angel is specifically Esau’s guardian angel, so the story mirrors the struggle between Jews and Rome, the thigh injury symbolizing the martyrdom of the rabbis.  Ramban (Nachmanides, 13th c.) extends this interpretation to the medieval persecutions of his own time, during which Jewish survival is like Jacob’s.  Nechama Leibowitz (New Studies in Bereshit, p. 370) points out that not only does Jacob best his adversary but he “enjoys his adversary’s blessing. The breaking of the dawn involves not merely the victory over every adversary, but also his blessing with which he will bless us.” To me, what is critical is that Jacob must wrestle in order to get his adversary’s blessing.  After the encounter with the angel, he is limping physically but is spiritually whole.  He is now ready to deal with his past (here, Esau).

The brothers’ reunion goes smoothly (suspiciously, according to the rabbis).  Jacob is particularly obsequious, generous with gifts and flattery.  Aware of Esau’s volatility, Jacob diplomatically refuses his offer of an escort.  He and his family head to Beth El where he’d had his first personal encounter with God all those years before.  He sets up an altar and is formally given the name Israel.  Also at Beth El, Rebecca’s nurse dies.

But Jacob’s family troubles are not over.  During their stay in Shechem, his daughter Dina is raped, and, though the Hivvite prince responsible wants to marry her, her brothers Shimon and Levi respond deceitfully and massacre 300 men; though he later chastises them, Jacob’s response at this point is shockingly cold.  Then his beloved Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin.  And son Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah.  He finally returns to Isaac in Hebron.  Rebecca has died (this isn’t in the text.  Isaac dies at the age of 180 and is buried by Jacob and Esau.  The portion ends with a list of the descendants of Esau.  The stories of Isaac and Esau are neatly tied up, as were Abraham’s and Ishmael’s in Chapter 25.  Jacob continues to reappear, sometimes as Jacob, sometimes as Israel, through the rest of Genesis, but now the spotlight will be on his 11th son, Joseph.

Shabbat shalom,


Quotes about Flattery

Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it but don’t swallow it.  Hank Ketcham
Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.  Edmund Burke
Flattery and insults raise the same question: What do you want?  Mason Cooley
Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.  Jack Paar
Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.  Benjamin Disraeli

A psychiatrist visited a California mental institution and asked a patient …

… “How did you get here? What was the nature of your illness?” He got the following reply.

“Well, it all started when I got married and I guess I should never have done it. I married a widow with a grown daughter who then became my stepdaughter.

My dad came to visit us, fell in love with my lovely stepdaughter, then married her. And so my stepdaughter was now my stepmother. Soon, my wife had a son who was, of course, my daddy’s brother-in-law since he is the half-brother of my stepdaughter, who is now, of course, my daddy’s wife.

So, as I told you, when my stepdaughter married my daddy, she was at once my stepmother! Now, since my new son is brother to my stepmother, he also became my uncle. As you know, my wife is my step-grandmother since she is my stepmother’s mother. Don’t forget that my stepmother is my stepdaughter. Remember, too, that I am my wife’s grandson.

But hold on just a few minutes more. You see, since I’m married to my step-grandmother, I am not only the wife’s grandson and her hubby, but I am also my own grandfather. Now can you understand how I got put in this place?”

After staring blankly with a dizzy look on his face, the psychiatrist replied: “Move over!”

Submitted by John, Emmitsburg, Md.


tph touchy-feely family


Ah, wrestling.  I’m the only one of the four of us who doesn’t know how to wrestle.  Even my daughter was briefly on a high school wrestling team.  Whenever my husband tried to show me some hold, I’d always start giggling.  My son was most involved, wrestling on school teams for 3-4 years, finally stopping largely because of recurring injuries (his pediatrician kept urging me to get him to take up cooking).  I remember seeing his first match in junior high.  The grappling seventh graders reminded me of trying to dress my kids when they were about three.  (IGP, 2004)


From 2013

Tommy Smothers, Mom always liked you best

(For those too young to remember the Smothers Brothers routines, one of their bits was centered on Tommy’s claim that Mom always liked Dick best, whence the item below, recorded in 2008.  The video is also at the above website.)

Tommy Smothers: When Dick was really good, if he really got on my case, the audience would sometimes boo him. Actually hiss a little bit and boo. And it kind of hurt his feelings. I said “that’s – you’re really doing a good job.” Bud Abbott was relentless on, on Lou Costello. Just relentless – he – didn’t show any humanity or – but you believed him. And people believed my brother too so when really gets – he’d do this one litany, about five or six lines in a row, when we were recording an album in St. Louis and he said “you’re stupid. You’re dumb. You’re not a man. You’ve never done anything right. You’re a failure. Da da da da.” And he finished up, he ran out of things and – and “You’ll never amount to anything.” And I said, “Yeah, and mom liked you best.” It was like the – and just the audience fell apart. Don’t know where it came from. So it – we have one enduring, uh, idea that will always live on with the Smothers Brothers, that mom always liked you best. We’re the universal, uh, feeling that every child, every sibling has had somewhere along the line. Or who did she like best? And that became kind of a little mantra.

‘Most unfortunate names’ revealed (abridged)

What do you call some of the most unlucky people in Britain?

Justin Case, Barb Dwyer and Stan Still.

It sounds like a bad joke, but a study has revealed that there really are unfortunate people with those names in the UK.  Joining them on the list are Terry Bull, Paige Turner, Mary Christmas and Anna Sasin.  And just imagine having to introduce yourself to a crowd as Doug Hole or Hazel Nutt.

The names were uncovered by researchers from parenting group after trawling through online telephone records.

Retired airman Stan Still, 76, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said his name had been “a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life”.

“When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, ‘Stan Still, get a move on’ and roll about laughing,” he said.  “It got hugely boring after a while.”

But 51-year-old Rose Bush, from Coventry, West Midlands, said she loved her name.  “I always get comments about it but they are always very positive,” she said.

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