Parashat Vayishlach– Erev Shabbat 19 November 2021(5782)
Week of 14-20 November 2021
Torah portion: Genesis 32:4-36:43 Haftarah: Obadiah 1:1-21
Theme: Life struggles, estrangements, reconciliations, and silencings
This Parashah begins and ends with references to Esau and his wives and progeny, but it features Jacob, the third and final patriarch to receive a personal covenant with G-d. After 14 years living in Aram, Jacob returns with his flocks and two wives, Rachel and Leah, to face his twin brother, Esau (whose other name is Edom). On the way, Jacob prays to be saved from his brother’s anger and encounters a “mysterious being.” They end up wrestling until dawn. This experience changes his life and he demands a blessing and receives a name change to “Israel” which denotes “wrestling with God.” This sets him on a new path. As Esau approaches with his 400 men, Israel bows seven times to the ground. They meet with tears and both offer gifts (lands and men) to each other. Reconciliation finally takes place.
Amid this story, Shechem, a Canaanite prince, tragically rapes Leah’s daughter, Dinah, born to Jacob (Gen. 34). Despite this violent act of rape, Shechem falls in love with Dinah and wishes to marry her. Sadly, her brothers tell him that he must be circumcised along with all his men to do so. The brothers deceive the townspeople and kill all the men including Shechem and his father, by the sword. It is a story of revenge taken by Simeon and Levi, “Dinah’s brothers” (34:5-7). She has been defiled but is not a whore (34:31). Sadly, there is no reference to what Dinah wants or needs for comfort. The “thing not to be done” was to have sex with Jacob’s daughter (193).
Rashi (202) quotes a Midrash that Jacob locks Dinah in a box to prevent her from marrying Esau. Had Esau married her, perhaps he would have returned to a path of good. Significantly noteworthy is this ultimate act of silencing which we see happening to women throughout the Torah and up to the present day as fathers perceive their daughters’ rapes as their dishonor and daughters must die as a result. Dinah’s forced silence echoes throughout the centuries to the present time from all the victims of violence, women, and girls particularly, whose voices are never heard. We recognize this in the thousands sold into sexual slavery around the world today.
The Parashah includes Rachel who for years longed for children and therefore named her second son Ben-oni (son of my suffering or strength) as she was dying after a difficult labor. Israel called him Benjamin (son of the right hand). The genealogy of Esau’s line concludes this portion as Canaanite wives figure prominently and are identified by the name and ethnicity of their fathers. In Jacob’s list of women, they are only named in connection with their sons. The struggle over “property” for both brothers includes women and children as well as beasts and lands.
Reflection and Discussion: 1). What kind of struggles do you face at present in terms of loss, health, family, or country? 2). From the beginning, there have been estrangements in families with revenge and violence taking place as a result. Can you envision reconciliation in these cases, reflective of Israel’s and Esau’s? 3). Have you witnessed a woman’s voice being silenced? What could you have done to ensure that woman was heard and respected?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, Editor, The Torah –A Women’s Commentary. (URJ Press, NY, 2008); Plaut, Gunter.The Haftarah Commentary. (NY, c1996, pp 115-121).
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Mary Louise Chesley-Cora, Delaware, USA, Bat Kol Alumna 2001