For the week ending 20 November 2021 / 16 Kislev 5782

Parashat Vayishlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Returning home, Yaakov sends angelic messengers to appease his brother Esav. The messengers return, telling Yaakov that Esav is approaching with an army of 400. Yaakov takes the strategic precautions of dividing the camps, praying for assistance, and sending tribute to mollify Esav.

That night, Yaakov is left alone and wrestles with the angel of Esav. Yaakov emerges victorious but is left with an injured sinew in his thigh (which is the reason that it is forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal). The angel tells him that his name in the future will be Yisrael, signifying that he has prevailed against man (Lavan) and the supernatural (the angel). Yaakov and Esav meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Esav’s offer that they should dwell together.

Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dina, Yaakov’s daughter. In return for Dina’s hand in marriage, the prince and his father suggest that Yaakov and his family intermarry and enjoy the fruits of Caananite prosperity. Yaakov’s sons trick Shechem and his father by feigning agreement. However, they stipulate that all the males of the city must undergo brit milah. Shimon and Levi, two of Dina’s brothers, enter the town and execute all the males who were weakened by the circumcision. This action is justified by the city’s tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister.

G-d commands Yaakov to go to Beit-El and build an altar. His mother Rivka’s nurse, Devorah, dies and is buried below Beit-El. G-d appears again to Yaakov, blesses him and changes his name to Yisrael. While traveling, Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to Binyamin, the twelfth of the tribes of Israel. She dies in childbirth and is buried on the Beit Lechem Road. Yaakov builds a monument to her. Yitzchak passes away at the age of 180 and is buried by his sons. The Torah portion concludes by listing Esav’s descendants.


A Minimal Attention Span

"Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn." (32:25)

We live in an era of distraction. Television advertising and music video driven by big BPM (bucks-per-minute) have accelerated the cutting rates of film and video to the microsecond. The ubiquitous cell phone interrupts thoughts, conversations and lives. Many do not think anymore — just surf through their thoughts. Now this and now this and now this. How long can a normal person hold an idea in his head? Everyone is invited to try it. Whoops? Try again! How long can the average person concentrate on an idea without any other thought intruding? Ten seconds? Twenty? Twenty is pretty “Olympic” in my own experience.

In this week’s Torah portion, an incorporeal spiritual force (trans. angel) attacks Yaakov and wrestles with him until the dawn. This angel was the protecting force of the nation of Esav. Why did the angel of Esav not attack Avraham or Yitzchak? Why did he wait for Yaakov?

This world stands on three pillars: On kindness, on prayer and on Torah. The three Patriarchs represent these three pillars: Avraham is the pillar of kindness, Yitzchak, the pillar of prayer, and Yaakov, the pillar of Torah. The Torah is the unique possession of the Jewish People. No other nation in the world has the Torah. Therefore, an attack on Torah is the one that hits at the heart of Judaism.

The angel of Esav attacked Yaakov because he knew that the most effective way to destroy the Jewish People is to deter them from learning Torah.

Even though the angel of Esav was unsuccessful in his fight with Yaakov, he managed to damage him in the thigh. The thigh is the place in the body that represents progeny and the continuation of Jewish continuity. In the era before the arrival of the Mashiach, Esav will try to make it very difficult to educate our children with Torah. Torah demands commitment, application and concentration. The essence of Torah study is to be able to contain several ideas in one’s head and to synthesize and counterpoint these ideas. A distracted person cannot learn Torah. Our era is one in which distraction has become an industry.

In the generation before the Mashiach in which we currently find ourselves, maintaining a minimal attention span will be a gigantic battle in itself. May we all be successful with the help of Heaven.

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