Chapter 32

4 Jacob dispatched angels: What lesson can we derive from Jacob's dispatching angels, when most of us do not have angels at our disposal?1

Angels are non-corporeal beings. More broadly, then, "angels" can refer to other non-corporeal phenomena, such as human intelligence and emotion.2 That Jacob sent non-corporeal beings to assess Esau teaches us that when faced with new opportunities, we too should "dispatch" our "non-corporeal beings," our intellect and emotions, to assess those opportunities: Will we be able to utilize them for holiness or will we harm ourselves spiritually by engaging with them?

The mere fact that we are confronted with an opportunity does not unequivocally imply that God wants us to involve ourselves in it, even for a holy purpose. God may have presented the opportunity to us as a temptation, something we are meant to walk away from and thereby sanctify ourselves.3 We must therefore carefully assess every new situation.

Naturally, our partiality for certain opportunities can distort our conclusions. To reach unbiased conclusions, we must detach ourselves emotionally from the process. Even as we examine these opportunities to determine our course of action, we must "dispatch" only the external dimension of our intellect and emotions to do so. The essence of our intellect and emotions must remain aloof from the material world, attuned to the essence of our souls, which transcends materiality.4

In fact, the very name of this parashah, Vayishlach, "He Dispatched," conveys the idea that in dealing with Esau, a realm of Divine concealment, we ourselves must remain completely aloof from it and cleanse ourselves of any attraction to it; only our "messengers" should descend to deal with Esau. This detachment enables us to achieve our goal of transforming Esau.5

5 Even though I have been sojourning with Laban all these years, I have continued to faithfully observe the Torah's commandments: The word for "sojourner" (ger) also connotes "foreigner." Jacob was thus alluding to the fact that the materialistic realm of Laban was "foreign" and secondary to him; his home and priority was the Torah and its commandments. This awareness enabled him to faithfully observe the Torah's precepts in an environment hostile to holiness. Not only was he not distracted or deterred by the physical reality that surrounded him, he was able to imbue that very reality with holiness.6

That Jacob's first message to Esau was about his Torah observance teaches us how we are to present ourselves to the non-Jewish world. We might have thought that to find favor in the eyes of non-Jews we should first highlight our commonality, downplaying our Jewishness and Jewish practice. From Jacob we learn that we should not be ashamed of our Torah observance—in fact, we should highlight it. Exuding pride in our Godly mission not only does not undermine our esteem in the eyes of the world, it enhances it.7


[5] I have been sojourning with LabanI have delayed my return until now: As we have seen, Isaac wanted to bless Esau, recognizing his older son's great potential (and lofty spiritual roots in Tohu). Rebecca, however, realized that Esau's potential could only be revealed by Jacob, and instructed Jacob to receive the blessings with which to refine and elevate Esau.8

Now that Jacob was going to meet Esau, he had to explain why he had tarried so long with Laban instead of doing his job of refining Esau. Jacob explained that his sojourn with Laban had to precede his meeting with Esau for two reasons, one relating to Laban's supernal self, the second to his terrestrial manifestation:

(1) As we have seen, Laban alludes to the "supernal whiteness" (loven ha-elyon), or non-composite uniformity of God's simple essence. By living with Laban while observing the commandments, Jacob accessed Laban's source in holiness, an energy that transcends the natural order. For twenty years, Jacob elicited these transcendent energies; this process culminated with Laban's kissing Jacob's children, which meant that Jacob and his entire domain absorbed the energy of Laban's lofty origin.9 Jacob then had the capacity to elevate Esau, and therefore immediately set about doing so.

(2) Esau embodied a greater evil than Laban did. Jacob therefore began with the lesser evil, refining Laban, and then descended even lower, to refine Esau.10


[6] I have acquired cattle [literally, "oxen"]: Above,11 the Torah does not mention that Jacob acquired cattle. This is because Oxen are used to plow fields, and Jacob was a shepherd, not a landowner. He did not become a landowner for two reasons: (a) the same reason Abel disdained the earth: the earth had been cursed;12 and (b) his mother had originally told him to sojourn with Laban for "a short while until the wrath of your brother will abate." Jacob anticipated a message from his mother at any moment saying that it was safe to return home. Thus, he was unable to work the land, since it would require him to settle for at least a few years.

Therefore, although Jacob owned oxen, which he used to plow the small plot of land that he owned in order to grow food, the Torah did not mention, since its purpose was to describe that which Jacob was blessed with in abundance.

Esau, on the other hand, was a landowner. To impress him, Jacob had to speak of oxen.13

6 I have acquired cattle…flocks: Spiritually, cattle and flocks of sheep represent two different holy attributes that Jacob possessed. Cattle represent strength, even brazenness; docile sheep represent humility and selflessness. Jacob's primary spiritual stock was humility and selflessness. He did, however, use strength when his mission required it.

To ensure that this strength would not lead to egotistical brutishness, Jacob, as we have seen,14 purchased his "cattle" with "sheep"—his strength was born from selflessness and was therefore predicated on it. He was strong, even brazen at times, but only for the sake of fulfilling his mission.

When addressing Esau, Jacob not only sought to downplay his success; he also tried to intimidate Esau by highlighting the merits and spiritual powers that he, Jacob, possessed.15 He therefore did not mention his flocks first, since humility is not a trait that would intimidate Esau. Instead, Jacob referred to his "cattle," alluding to his ability to use strength when necessary. Only then he mentioned his flock—i.e., his selflessness—alluding to the fact that his strength was a holy strength, predicated on humility.

In our lives, too, we must employ strength at times, in order to counter those who mock and oppose goodness and holiness. But we must be careful not to employ mere egotistical boldness. To do so would mean lowering ourselves to the level of our opposition, which also employs egotistical boldness; and we cannot be assured that our boldness will trump theirs.

Furthermore, egotistical boldness is an unholy trait. It therefore cannot be a suitable ally in the battle for goodness and holiness. Rather, we should employ strength only because the Torah tells us do so. Such strength is selfless strength, the sort that enables us to triumph.16

I have acquired…donkeys…: The dawning of the messianic age hinges upon the refinement and elevation of the entire world, represented by the seventy nations. Although this had not yet occurred in Jacob's time—it would take the exile of the Jewish people over millennia to achieve this goal—Jacob thought the messianic age was at hand. This was because he thought that the elevation of the nations could be achieved through the elevation of their "fathers," Ishmael and Esau.

Jacob had already elevated the realm of Laban, who represents corrupt kindness and is therefore equal to Ishmael, who embodied corrupt kindness as well.17 Jacob thought that Esau, corrupt strength, had already been elevated and therefore expected the redemption.18 He therefore told him, "I have acquired…donkeys [literally, 'a donkey']." According to the Midrash, Jacob was alluding to the donkey upon which the Messiah will arrive.19 Jacob was telling Esau that by sojourning with Laban and remaining true to God's commandments, he had brought holiness into the mundane world and was therefore ready for the messianic era, which will be precipitated by the sanctification of physicality.20

Jacob thought that Esau was also ready for that time. He thought that the earthly Esau had already been realigned with his Divine source, that his intense and chaotic energy had been redirected from a passion for self-indulgence toward a passion for God. He therefore sent messengers to Esau, to draw upon himself Esau's lofty and intense energies and assimilate them into his composed and orderly world.

But Jacob's messengers informed him that he had been overly optimistic: "We came to whom you think is your brother, but he is still Esau. He has not yet been refined."21 Jacob then realized that Esau would be unable to consciously share with him the energy of his lofty origin, since Esau himself remained trapped in its fallen manifestation. Jacob therefore took measures to elicit this light on his own, as we shall see.22

Jacob's readiness for the messianic age teaches us that even if we find ourselves in a world that seems unrefined and incongruous with messianic reality, we must prepare ourselves, our families, and everything in our sphere of influence for that time. We can do so by, like Jacob, remaining aloof from materialism, which enables us to sanctify our material lives. By doing so we prepare the entire world for the messianic age, since what we do in the microcosm of our own world affects the macrocosm of the entire world.23

Furthermore, the cumulative effect of all that we have accomplished in this vein throughout history is that the physical world (as represented by Esau) is now also ready for the messianic age. Our work now, then, is not only to further refine and spiritualize the physical realm—this task has been sufficiently completed to warrant the advent of the messianic age. Rather, our work today must focus mainly on bringing about the revelation of messianic reality. Indeed, there are already signs of this awakening, such as how Judaism is flourishing in places formerly hostile to holiness.24

I have acquired cattle (or "an ox") and donkeys (or "a donkey"): According to the Midrash,25 Jacob was alluding to his sons Joseph and Issachar, who are referred to metaphorically as "ox" and "donkey."26

Rabbi Dovber (the maggid) of Mezeritch explained that our inner "Esau," our evil inclination, attempts to corrupt us in two ways: (1) through the "heat" of desire for material pleasures and (2) through the "coldness" of apathy towards goodness. We counter these two attacks of Esau with positive "heat" and "coldness," with passion for holiness and apathy towards materialism. These are represented by Joseph the "ox" and Issachar the "donkey":

Joseph is associated with fire that destroys Esau, as in the verse, "The house of Joseph will be a flame and the house of Esau for stubble…."27 Issachar, whose name means "there is reward" (yesh sachar), is associated with holy apathy, as the Talmud teaches, "there is reward" for apathy in that it prevents one from sin.28

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach Tzedek) similarly taught that the ox, which is associated with the left side in Ezekiel's prophetic vision,29 the side of strength and intensity (gevurah), represents fiery and intense love for God. The "donkey" alludes to coldness, since its nature is to feel cold even in the summer.30 This coldness is associated with Issachar, the tribe that epitomized Torah knowledge and wisdom,31 since the wisdom of the Torah humbles its students and cools their yearning for material pleasures.32

8 He…decided to employ…three strategies… (a) to prepare for battle, (b) to pray to God…and (c) to prepare a…gift: Although Jacob was averse to do any of these, he overcame his aversion and did them anyway:

Battle: Although Jacob was afraid of being killed in war and even more so of having to kill others, he overcame his fear and prepared for war.

Prayer: Although Jacob was afraid that he was not worthy of God's protection, he reached out to God in prayer in any case.

Gifts: Although Jacob was angry that he had to take all these measures in preparation for his meeting with Esau,33 he did so in any case.

In addition to overcoming his particular aversion to each strategy, Jacob also displayed an unusual ability to engage in three very different types of behaviors simultaneously. Preparing for war was an act of aggression (gevurah); preparing a gift was an act of kindness (chesed); and while the latter two acts related to human beings, Jacob's final act, prayer (rachamim-tiferet), related to God.

Jacob's multifaceted approach in confronting Esau to protect his family gives us the strength to do the same in our confrontation with our current exile. We cannot suffice with doing that which comes easy to us. We must engage in a multifaceted approach, using the full spectrum of our abilities, to protect our children, indeed every Jewish child, from the spiritual dangers of exile.34


[7] Four hundred men: Even before Jacob heard the angels' report, he knew that Esau was accompanied by 400 men. Yet he was not afraid, since he assumed they were the embodiments of "the 400 worlds of spiritual delight":

Spiritually, the 400 coins that Abraham gave to Ephron (in payment for the Cave of Machpelah35) correspond to the 400 "worlds of delight" that the righteous will inherit in the World to Come. Abraham invested these lofty energies in Ephron in order to extract them later on, much like sowing a field with a small number of seeds in order to reap abundant produce later on. While they remain in the realm of Ephron, however, they take on a negative manifestation.

Jacob thought that the energies of the 400 coins had already been returned to their original holy state and were now embodied in Esau's men. Sadly, the angels reported, Esau's 400 men were the devolved manifestation of these lofty spiritual energies, which had not yet been returned to holiness.36

[8] He divided the people who were with him…into two camps: When Jacob realized that Esau was unable to consciously share the energy of Tohu with him, Jacob took measures to elicit this light on his own. This would also protect him from the dangers of the physical Esau.

These measures would have to mirror the world of Tohu. His first measure therefore was to split his camp into two, the number associated with Tohu. Tikun, by contrast, is characterized by the number three:

The sefirot of Tohu exist in two separate realms, right and left; each sefirah exists independently of the other. In Tikun, however, each sefirah is a conglomerate of all the others. This conglomeration is not possible in Tohu, since the vessels of Tohu are too small to contain opposites. Kindness of Tohu, for example, is pure and unrestrained kindness uninhibited by restraint (gevurah). The Tohu environment can be compared to narrow-minded people who mind cannot accommodate two opposing concepts. When, for example, they are inclined favorably toward a given subject, they will be unable to see any room for criticism of the subject, and vice versa.

In Tikun, however, the right and the left are harmonized into a third realm. This can be compared to a broad-minded person, who even in judgment can entertain a favorable thought. This is because in Tikun the light is less intense and the vessels more expansive. The expanded vessel allows for the coexistence of opposing views, like the broad mind that can accommodate opposites.

In order to elicit the intense light of Tohu, Jacob split his camp in two, mirroring the two-dimensional world of Tohu.37

11 I fear that my numerous sins may have offset most of my merits: The word for sin (chet) also connotes "lacking."38

Obviously, Jacob did not sin in the conventional sense of contravening God's will. Rather, because of his great humility he assumed that his deeds were lacking complete perfection. Therefore, as is the way of righteous people,39 he petitioned God to save him not because of his worthiness—although he was in fact worthy—but out of pure kindness.

We, too, should attempt to attain a level of selflessness in which we are unable to consider ourselves worthy of Divine assistance but ask for it by appealing to God's kindness. If we ask for assistance based on our worthiness—and we certainly are worthy40—God's response will be limited to the extent of our worthiness. But when we disregard our worthiness, we demonstrate that we have achieved self-transcendence and God responds to us accordingly with blessings that transcend the natural order.41

I am no longer worthy due to all the acts of kindness and trustworthiness that You have done for me: The friendship and attention that wise people bestow upon arrogant or impudent people engenders in the latter only more arrogance. Yet the same friendship and attention given to wholesome people engenders a sense of humility in their recipients. They become inspired to cleave even more intensely to the wise and to rectify their own shortcomings.

Similarly, when God granted Jacob remarkable success, he did not respond with arrogance, but with humility.42 As Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi interpreted this verse, "I have been humbled due to all the acts of kindness…that You have done for me."

Jacob recognized God's kindness as an expression of His love for him. God was drawing him close. And the closer he was drawn to the infinite God, the more he appreciated his own finiteness and smallness.43

Despite the importance of humility, the Talmud instructs Torah scholars to maintain a small amount of pride.44 Thus, despite Jacob's deep humility, he still maintained a healthy pride and confidence, as we see later, when Jacob does not hesitate to dispatch angels (!) for his needs.

This combination of humility and pride can also be seen in the dual meaning of Jacob's statement, "I crossed this Jordan River with my staff." On the one hand, Jacob was evoking his humble beginnings, saying that he crossed the river penniless, with nothing but his staff. On the other hand, Jacob was evoking his great merit by alluding to the fact that he used his staff to miraculously split the water.45

These two sentiments represent two levels within Jacob's selflessness. On one level, he felt some vestige of self and actively negated and nullified it. On a higher level, he was inherently selfless. It was within this second level that Jacob was prideful, since this pride was not an egotistical pride but one that stemmed from humility: He had achieved such a high level of selflessness that he viewed himself simply as a conduit for God's will. His pride and confidence were therefore Godly pride and confidence, not an expression of his ego.

Jacob was able to maintain both of these seemingly opposite sentiments by evoking the essence of his soul, which transcends both sentiments.46

14 He spent that night [literally, "he spent the night on that night"]: The Torah usually uses one word (וילן) to mean "he spent the night." Here, and again below,47 the Torah adds the seemingly redundant phrase: "he spent the night on that night." The Torah again uses the phrase "that night" in verse 23, saying "that night he arose."

By emphasizing that all of these events occurred "on that night," the Torah is alluding to the uniformity in Jacob's frame of mind throughout the varied activities he engaged in on that night: (a) praying and expressing his trust in God, (b) sending Esau a gift to appease him, and (c) taking steps to protect his family. One would have thought that Jacob's frame of mind during the latter two activities would have differed from when he was praying to God and expressing his trust in Him. One would have thought that they were carried out with lesser Divine consciousness.

The Torah therefore emphasizes that all these events occurred on that night. His tactical steps to appease Esau and protect his family were not a departure from his prayer and faith, but a continuation of it. He engaged in these tactical activities to create natural vessels for the fulfillment of God's blessings. He therefore remained attached mentally to God while engaged in these activities with the same attachment that he felt during his prayers.48


[14] He selected a gift for his brother Esau: Spiritually, Jacob's objective with this gift was to elicit the lofty energies of Esau's spiritual source, the world of Tohu.

His gift was therefore commensurate with the world of Tohu. This is why it included non-kosher animals, since the world of Tohu operates in a modality that does not conform to Torah law.49

24-25 He then went back to get some small articles… Thus Jacob remained on his own [alone]: The Midrash50 compares Jacob's remaining "alone" to the "aloneness," i.e., all-pervasiveness of God, as in the verse, "…on that day [in the messianic age] God alone will be exalted."51 How do we reconcile this lofty vision of Jacob, associated with the revelation of God's all-pervasiveness in the messianic age, with the fact that he went back for some small, seemingly insignificant articles?52

The Baal Shem Tov taught that our ownership of a particular object is an indication that the Godly sparks that sustain that object have a particular connection to our souls. (This is why we are drawn to certain objects and not to others, since we are drawn to objects that are spiritually connected to us.) By using those objects for a holy purpose, we reveal the Godliness of those objects.53

This is why, as the Talmud comments regarding Jacob, the righteous cherish their belongings immensely,54 since they perceive the lofty holy sparks they contain and are committed to elevating those sparks.

The "small articles" that Jacob returned for contained sparks that had fallen the lowest and which were shrouded in the most extreme spiritual darkness.55 By connecting to his root in the essence of God—where God's all-pervasiveness is obvious—Jacob gained the strength to retrieve the "small articles," even the lowest sparks. In turn, by elevating even these sparks, Jacob revealed the all-pervasiveness of God, that there is nothing outside the Godly, even that which on the surface appears to be furthest from Him.56

29 No longer shall it be said that your name is Jacob: Unlike by Abraham, whom the Torah no longer refers to as Abram once his name was changed, the Torah continues to refer to Jacob as both Jacob and Israel.57 Similarly, the Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob, are referred to by both names. This is because the name Israel was not meant displace the name Jacob. Rather, it was meant to be an additional name, expressing a loftier dimension of Jacob. But both names represent a particular aspect of our relationship with God, both of which are critical to the fulfillment of our Divine mission:

Jacob as "Jacob" had to struggle and use trickery to retrieve the blessings of material bounty from Isaac; as "Israel," the blessings were conceded to him and no longer contested.

Spiritually, this means that our interaction with the material world—the subject of Isaac's blessings—takes on two forms. There are times when the material world challenges our Divine consciousness. During those moments, we must struggle to reveal the Divinity that lies beneath the veneer of materiality. For example, when we engage in physical activities, our Godly purpose in doing so is not apparent. We are like Jacob, who, having donned Esau-like garments, was superficially similar to Esau. We are engaged in "trickery," since our external behavior conceals our inner purpose, which is the sanctification of the material.

At other times, the material world not only does not challenge our Divine consciousness, it confirms it. At those times we do not need to struggle to do what is right, since doing so comes naturally and intuitively. At those times our name is "Israel."

The name "Jacob," derived from the word for "heel," refers to a state where we are conscious only of the "heel" of our soul, its lowest element. Our materialistic side is therefore capable of overshadowing the light of our souls, requiring us to do battle in order to overcome our materialistic tendencies.

In contrast, the letters of the name "Israel" (ישראל) can be rearranged to form the words for "I have a head" (לי ראש),58 alluding to a state where we are conscious of the "head" of our soul, its highest dimension, and are inclined only toward holiness.

Jacob is therefore referred to as God's servant,59 whereas Israel is referred to as God's child.60 Our relationship with God as servants to their master refers to our fulfillment of the commandments out of a sense of duty and obligation, even when it does not come naturally to us. Our relationship with God as children refers to our fulfillment of the commandments because our souls derive from Him, we are His "children," and are therefore naturally aligned with His will and wisdom.61

The gentile prophet Balaam therefore prophesied that God "sees no iniquity in Jacob, and sees no toil in Israel."62 On the level of Israel, there is no toil, since behaving in a Godly fashion comes naturally. On the level of Jacob, however, there is no iniquity, but there is toil.

The Zohar relates Jacob to the Divine Name Elokim and Israel to the Divine Name Havayah.63 Elokim is the name that embodies that aspect of Godliness that enables Divine concealment, which in turn enables God's creation to project an illusion of separateness from God. Havayah embodies transcendence from Divine concealment.

Jacob must toil to see past the veneer of Elokim, to its essence, which is Havayah; for Israel, Elokim presents no concealment to begin with, as Jacob said before his journey to Charan, "and Havayah will be for me Elokim."64

Similarly, the Sabbath is related to Havayah, and the six weekdays to Elokim, as in the verse,65 "And Elokim ceased on the seventh day [from all the work that He had done]"—on the Sabbath, the concealment of Elokim gives way to the revelation of Havayah.66

Accordingly, during the week we are "Jacob"; our mission, in general, is to struggle with the physical and reveal its inner Godliness by utilizing it for holiness. For example, when we eat during the week, we are engaged in a mundane act with a holy end (to utilize the energy of the food for goodness). On the Sabbath, however, we are "Israel"; we do not struggle with the mundane trappings of physicality—eating on the Sabbath is itself a holy act.

"Israel" is generally the condition of completely righteous people, who have no temptation for evil; and "Jacob" is generally the condition of people aspiring to be righteous, who must struggle with temptation. In particular, however, even the aspiring person experiences "Israel" on the Sabbath, as mentioned. Likewise, completely righteous people also experience some measure of concealment and struggle—albeit of a far loftier nature than that experienced people who are still only aspiring to be righteous—which is their "Jacob."67

In a general sense, "Jacob" is the name associated with fulfillment of the commandments, which primarily involves the body and the physical world, the "heel," i.e., the lower elements of creation; "Israel" is associated with study of the Torah, which involves the soul and the mind.68

More specifically, "Jacob" is associated with study of the Torah for the sake of self-refinement; "Israel" is associated with Torah study for its own sake, experiencing it as pure Divine wisdom, utterly transcendent from this world.69

You will be called Israel, for you have striven with an angel [or: "angels"70] of God and with men and you have prevailed: More broadly, the angel was referring not only to himself but to the seventy angels through whom God channels his energy to create and sustain nature.71 Since nature hides God's presence, these angels represent concealment of God. This concealment of God gives rise to a greater concealment, that of "men," cynics who deny God's existence or His desire for our good deeds, and therefore scorn those who embrace the Torah and its precepts. The environment created by these cynics poses a greater challenge to our Divine consciousness than that posed by the Divine concealment inherent to nature itself.

This is why the four volumes of the code of Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch) begins with the admonition, "Do not be ashamed before the scoffers,"72 since the foundation of all our spiritual work is to break through and undo the concealment of Godliness.

Having the name "Israel" means that we can transcend any Divine concealment posed by "angels" or "men." Not only do these elements refrain from battling "Israel," they consent to his taking of the blessings and bless him, fulfilling the verse, "Even his enemies make peace with him."73

33 Therefore, to this very day, the Israelites do not eat the nerve…of the hip joint—the sciatic nerve—because the angel touched Jacob's hip joint: The commentators explain that this prohibition is not just to remember the fact that the angel touched Jacob's hip joint, but rather to remember the entire story of Jacob's battle and miraculous salvation from the angel.74

The reason we commemorate this salvation more than any other is because in it is contained the promise of our survival. By saving Jacob, God was as if telling the Jewish people that, despite all the persecutions they would later suffer throughout their exiles at the hands of the nations and the descendants of Esau, they would never be destroyed.75

By commemorating this episode by remembering this seemingly minor detail, we celebrate the extent of God's love and commitment to Jacob and his descendants, a love of such magnitude that it causes God to be concerned with every "minor" detail of our existence.76

Chapter 33

3 He…prostrated himself seven times: From the beginning of the parashah, Jacob acts submissively. He refers to Esau several times as "my master" and to himself as "your servant"; he sends Esau gifts; and, in this verse, bows seven times before him. By flattering Esau in this way, Jacob seems to have contravened the prophecy and blessing of Isaac that Jacob would rule over Esau.77

The Midrash in fact states that Jacob was punished for this behavior.78 Nevertheless, being that Jacob like the other patriarchs was completely righteous,79 we must say that this behavior, too, was not a sin in the conventional sense. In fact, our sages derive from Jacob's behavior that one should flatter the wicked for the sake of keeping the peace.80

Rather, Jacob "lowered" himself before Esau not out of fear or obsequiousness but for the sake of refining Esau on Esau's own level. Jacob could have sought to influence Esau without leaving his own holy and lofty stature, without descending to Esau's level of spiritual darkness. This would have been to Jacob's advantage, since he could have avoided the messy business of entanglement with evil.81

But this way, Jacob would have overwhelmed Esau with holiness. Esau's evil would then have been subdued but not transformed. To truly change Esau, as Esau operated within his own context, Jacob had to lower himself to Esau's level, even if it meant that he would suffer spiritually and then require a punishment that would return him to spiritual fitness.

Jacob chose the latter route and by so doing succeeded in his mission. Esau did experience a transformation. He conceded Isaac's blessings to Jacob,82 including the blessing that Jacob would rule over Esau. This marked the beginning of Esau's transformation, which will reach its completion in the messianic age.83


[3] He…prostrated himself seven times: By bowing seven times, Jacob refined the seven corrupted emotions of Tohu embodied in Esau and elevated the good that each one contained.84 This idea is reflected in the numeric equivalents of Jacob and Esau's names:

The name Havayah (יהו-ה) is numerically equivalent to 26. The numerical value of Isaac's name (יצחק, 208) equals 8 x 26, i.e., the name Havayah multiplied by eight. The numerical value of Jacob's name (יעקב, 182) equals 7 x 26, meaning that he inherited seven of the eight occurrences of the Name Havayah in Isaac. Esau inherited the remaining Name Havayah.

The numerical value of Esau's name (עשו) is 376, meaning that, besides the 26 of the Name Havayah he inherited from Isaac, his "intrinsic" value was only 350. This number is 7 x 50, which is the numerical value of the word for "impure" (טמא). Thus, Esau possessed seven measures of impurity plus one measure of the Name Havayah (350 + 26 = 376).

As far as the Name Havayah that Esau possessed, he was the brother of Jacob. As far as the seven measures of impurity that he possessed, he was the opposite of Jacob, who possessed seven times Havayah. This caused Esau to hate Jacob.

By prostrating himself to Esau seven times, Jacob neutralized the seven measures of impurity that Esau possessed, leaving Esau with only the Name Havayah, the aspect of Esau by which he was Jacob's brother. This is the inner meaning of the verse, "He prostrated himself seven times until he approached his brother," i.e., until he reached and uncovered the positive aspect of Esau, by virtue of which Esau was his brother. It was only then that Esau ran towards Jacob to hug and kiss him.85

4 He kissed him, but not wholeheartedly. From another perspective, Esau did kiss him wholeheartedly: Not only did Jacob survive his ordeal with Esau, he transformed Esau. Whereas Esau had previously wished to kill Jacob, he now ran toward him to hug and kiss him. This (albeit temporary) reconciliation between Jacob and Esau was a monumental spiritual event, which formed the foundation upon which the work of permanently transforming the realm of Esau over the course of history could take place.

The two accounts of Esau's sentiments while kissing Jacob correspond to the two methods and stages by which Jacob (the Jewish people) refines Esau (the animating soul and the nations of the world) in the final stages of history. In the first stage, Esau remains crude but is forced to behave in a Godly way—he goes through the motions of "kissing Jacob" but his heart is not in it (itkafya). In the second stage, Esau's very nature is transformed and he becomes refined—he "kisses Jacob" wholeheartedly (it'hapcha).

These two stages are alluded to in the two parts of the verse (found in the haftorah for this parashah) that describe the future meeting of the Jewish people and the descendants of Esau in the messianic age: "They…will ascend…to judge the mountain of Esau, and the kingship will be God's."86

The first phrase, prophesying the judgment of Esau, suggests a time when Esau will be subdued only because he will be judged; the second phrase suggests a time when Esau will no longer need to be judged, since God's kingship will be obvious to all, including Esau, who will therefore be transformed into a force for goodness.87

13-14 Let my master please go on…while I move on at my own slow pace…until I reach my master at Seir… [Jacob] intended his statement to apply to…the Messiah, who in the future will meet up with Esau's descendants and sit in judgment over them: The Talmud speaks of two ways in which the messianic age can commence: (a) "in its time," and (b) in a described by the words "I will hasten it."88 The advantage of the latter is obvious, since it shortens the length of the exile. However, there is also an advantage to the redemption coming "in its time." If the messianic age begins prematurely, those aspects of the world that have not been elevated and refined will be unable to assimilate the Divine revelation that will occur in the messianic age. These unrefined elements will be overwhelmed by Divinity and expire in ecstatic yearning.89

Jacob thus felt that although he himself was at a level where he could experience the messianic age, the world at large was not ready. Those who had not attained his level were still like "frail children" or "nursing lambs" in their spiritual development. Therefore, he said:

If they are driven hard for even one day, all the flocks will die: If the messianic age—when Jacob and Esau will finally unite—is rushed to occur now, the "flocks will die," they will be overwhelmed by the Divine revelation and expire. Jacob therefore advised—

Let my master please go on…while I move on at my own slow pace, at the pace of the herds that are ahead of me, and at the pace of the children—until I reach my master at Seir: This slow pace alludes to the long and arduous exiles of his descendants,90 during which they would illuminate the crass world with the light of the Torah. Only after the lowly elements of creation were elevated over the course of history would the messianic age commence.91

The above can be compared to the two ways transportation services are generally offered: express and local. The express train reaches the destination faster, but leaves many along the way behind. The local service takes a lot longer, but it enables passengers from various stations—and those who cannot handle high speeds—to join the ride.92

Jacob's allusion to Esau's transformation in the messianic age—"until I reach my master at Seir"—teaches us how to neutralize the potential hostility of the "Esaus" we encounter during our exile:

If we fall prey to the external trappings of exile and feel subservient to the rulership of "Esau," our attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy—"Esau" imagines that he truly rules over us and might behave accordingly.

To neutralize Esau's power, we must see past the facade of exile to its inner purpose, which is to enable us to condition the world for the messianic age, at which time Esau will be subdued and transformed. By viewing our exilic adventure as a long path towards Seir and focusing on the end game—a time when Esau is indeed harmless—Esau becomes harmless even during the exile.93

17 He built himself houses and made shelters [or: "huts"] for his livestock: Spiritually, this means that for himself—his soul and its needs—he built a permanent "house"; but for his "livestock," alluding to his possessions and physical needs, he sufficed with "temporary huts."

A visitor to the home of Rabbi Dovber (the maggid) of Mezeritch expressed shock at its poor furnishings. "Tell me," asked the holy Rebbe of the visitor, "and why don't I see any of your furniture?" "Well, now I'm on the road," replied the visitor, "but my home is decently furnished!" "Yes," said Rabbi Dovber, "at 'home' things are quite different…."

The righteous consider their earthly needs to be foreign and secondary. Their focus and "home" is their soul and matters of the Torah and its commandments.94

18 And Jacob arrived safely [or: "intact"]: Jacob's travels and travails presaged his descendants' journey through exile. And just as Jacob arrived with his body, finances, and Torah knowledge intact, we too will ultimately arrive to the Holy Land, in the messianic age, intact in these three respects—

Fully recovered from the limp: In the Midrash, Jacob's hip injury is seen as presaging the persecutions Jacob's descendants would suffer during the exile.95 Yet at the end of that exile, they too will arrive intact to the Holy Land. The only marks of their struggle in exile will be their enhanced spiritual fitness and deeper bond with God stimulated by the challenges of persecution.

His prolific flocks and herds, which had been depleted by his gift to Esau, had replenished themselves: Jacob's investment of gifts to Esau for the purpose of transforming Esau foreshadow the resources of time and effort we "invest" in the physical world to gain possessions, which we in turn sanctify through holy living. This investment entails a temporary spiritual loss, since we are forced to descend into the mundane world. In the end, however, we will arrive intact and complete, since all of our possessions and efforts will have been elevated and subsumed within the realm of holiness.

While working for Laban, he had not forgotten any of the Torah that he learned: Unlike the former two aspects, in which Jacob experienced a temporary loss that was later healed or replenished, Jacob never experienced any loss in regard to his Torah knowledge, even temporarily. Similarly, although our bodies and resources may undergo a temporary loss during exile that is later replenished, our "Torah knowledge," our spiritual core is never compromised, even during exile. In the words of Rabbi Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch: "Only our bodies have been subjected to exile…our souls were never sent into exile."96

Chapter 34

1 She inherited her mother's willingness to venture out of the safety of her tent for holy and righteous purposes…She went out to observe the girls of that region in order to convince them to adopt the righteous ways of her family: It appears that Dinah was not successful in her purpose, for the residents of Shechem committed a crime for which they suffered the death penalty, and Dinah herself suffered from their cruel immorality. It therefore seems that Dinah was wrong to mingle with the girls of region.

Beneath the surface, however, the matter was somewhat more complex. First of all, as we will see,97 it was not Dinah's fault that she was abducted; her abduction was punishment for Jacob not having given her to Esau in marriage and for tarrying in fulfilling his promises to God.

Secondly, her efforts did bear fruit. Before they killed the residents of Shechem, Simeon and Levi had them circumcise themselves. Although this was partly a ruse to weaken the men of Shechem, it was also meant to have a metaphysical effect: circumcision is part of the process by which a non-Jew converts to Judaism, and this fact was well-known to the inhabitants of Shechem. By agreeing to be circumcised, the males of Shechem were agreeing to be refined to a certain degree. This collective assent to become at least partially Jewish refined their whole society, as well, including the girls.

And indeed, although all the men of Shechem were killed, the women and children were taken captive;98 we may presume that most of them became servants in Jacob's household and thereby absorbed Jacob's values and morals.99

Dinah's behavior teaches us that women blessed with unique talents that enable them to influence others should utilize those talents to draw the hearts of their fellow Jewish women to the Torah. In fact, God created women with an enhanced ability to connect empathetically with others. They should therefore utilize this characteristic not just in building their home and family but also in influencing other Jewish women. (Of course, this endeavor should be carried out in a regal and refined manner that in no way compromises the spirit of feminine modesty.)100

25 Simeon and Levi, each [man] took up his sword: There are two opinions regarding the source for the law that a male becomes obligated to fulfill the commandments—"Bar Mitzvah"—at the age of thirteen.101 Some maintain that this verse provides the source, since Simeon and Levi are referred to as "men," even though they were only thirteen at the time.102 (In fact, the argument can be made that it was on that very day that Levi turned thirteen.103) Others maintain that this is one of those measures and criteria that were not recorded in the Torah and were instead passed on orally by Moses.104

These two views reflect two views on why a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah at thirteen. According to the first view, the Torah reveals to us that it is at this age that a child naturally gains intellectual maturity—becomes a "man"—and therefore becomes obligated to follow the Torah laws. According to the second view, there is no rational explanation for this change; it is simply a Divine commandment for which no reason was given.

A practical difference that arises from these two views would the age at which non-Jews become obligated to observe the Noahide laws. According to the first view, a non-Jewish children become obligated to observe the Noahide laws at the age of thirteen, since the Torah says that thirteen is the age of intellectual maturity and therefore also that of obligation. According to the second view, non-Jewish children become responsible at whatever age they mature intellectually,105 since the supra-rational measures and criteria passed on by Moses do not apply to the Noahide laws.106

These two views also reflect differing attitudes toward how those who become Bar Mitzvah begin their fulfillment of the commandments. According to the first view, their motivation to fulfill the commandments should be a rational understanding of them, since their new obligatory status is born of their new ability to understand the importance of the commandments. According to the second view, they should be motivated purely by the fact that the commandments are God's will, reflecting the supra-rational cause for their new obligatory status.

Yet even according to the first view, the Torah reveals to us that a child matures intellectually at thirteen via a story that transcends the intellectual process, namely the that of Simeon and Levi's selfless act, putting themselves in danger to fight immorality. This alludes to the fact that the rational appreciation we must have when we first mature must be founded upon and permeated with supra-rational passion and unconditional, selfless commitment. Conversely, our supra-rational passion must be channeled and defined via the lens of rationality and reason.107

Chapter 35

13 God ascended from above him [literally: "from upon him"]: Based on this phrase, the Midrash comments that the patriarchs are God's "chariot."108 This means that throughout their lives, every aspect of their being transcended material concerns and was committed exclusively to the fulfillment of God's will.

Similarly, whenever we engage in the fulfillment of the commandments, our limbs—the hand that gives charity to the poor, the leg that carries us to perform a good deed, the mouth and brain that engages in Torah study—become a "chariot" for God's will.109


[16] Rachel went into labor and had difficulty giving birth: In the Zohar, Joseph and Benjamin are referred to as the "higher saint" (tzadik elyon) and the "lower saint" (tzadik tachton), respectively.110 One of the differences between them was that whereas Joseph's focus was on drawing down Divine awareness from the supernal worlds to the physical world, Benjamin's focus was on elevating the physical toward the supernal worlds.111 Benjamin embodied the yearning of the creatures of the lower worlds to rise and be enveloped in their Divine source.

It follows that the birth of Benjamin, the descent of his soul into the physical world, went against his very nature, which was to ascend. Rachel therefore experienced difficulty when giving birth to him.112

19 Rachel…was buried on the road leading to Efrat. Efrat is also known as Bethlehem: Rachel was the only one of the matriarchs who was not buried in the Cave of Machpelah. This enabled her to pray on behalf of the Jewish people, who many centuries later, would pass by her grave in Bethlehem as they were driven from the Land of Israel following the destruction of the first temple.113 At that time, after the patriarchs tried and failed to appease God, Rachel cried out:

"Master of the Universe! Whose mercy is greater—Yours, or that of a mortal? Surely Your mercy is greater. Yet I, a mere mortal, mercifully brought my competitor into my home. Jacob served my father just to gain my hand in marriage. Yet when it was time for me to marry him, they brought my sister instead. And not only did I remain silent; I disclosed my secret signs to Leah!114 You, too, O God: if Your children have brought Your competitor [i.e., idols] into Your home, remain silent. I, a mere mortal, was not jealous of my competitor. You, O living and eternal King, why be jealous of meaningless idols?"

God's mercy was immediately aroused, and He proclaimed: "For you, Rachel, I will return the Jewish people to their homeland. You have advocated well. There is reward for your deed and your righteousness…."115

Rachel was well aware of Jacob's holiness and righteousness. She surely yearned to be married to him and live with him. Yet she gave up that opportunity and allowed her sister to marry Jacob instead. This self-sacrifice later enabled her to use her precedent as a defense for the Jewish people.

Similarly, Rachel gave up thousands of years of burial next to her husband in the Cave of Machpelah for her descendants' sake, even though these descendants deserved to be exiled because of their sins. It is this sacrifice and devotion that evokes God's promise to redeem His people, regardless of their mistakes.116


[28] Isaac lived to be 180 years old: God's blessing of longevity thus added exactly the same number of years to Isaac's life as it had to his father Abraham's: Abraham should have naturally died at the age of 100 but God added 80 years to his life (and then shortened it by five years so as not to see Esau succumb to his evil inclination). Based on this, Isaac's natural limit of longevity should have been 105 years, but God added 80 years to it.

Nonetheless, Isaac died at age 180 rather than 185 because his love for Esau blinded him to Esau's wickedness. Isaac therefore did not refrain from looking at Esau, and looking at wicked people shortens a person's life.117

Chapter 36

3 Basmat (who was nicknamed Machalat): As we have seen,118 Machalat, which means, "The Forgiven One," was so called since she and Esau were forgiven of their sins when they got married. The sages derived from this that all couples are forgiven of their sins when they marry.119 This is because through marriage a person is raised to a new level and becomes in a sense newborn.120

The spiritual parallel of marriage, whose primary purpose is to bring new life into the world, is teaching Torah and thereby giving spiritual life to another.121 It follows, then, that those who commit themselves to the work of teaching Torah are promised that they will be forgiven of all sin.

There are those who shy away from such work claiming that they are not sufficiently pious and must first, as the Talmud exhorts, "fix themselves before fixing others."122 The truth is that by devoting themselves to "spiritual procreation" they would elicit Divine assistance that would enhance their personal spiritual work. Their "fixing others" would become a means of "fixing themselves."

Since the Torah teaches us this lesson in the context of the wicked Esau's marriage, it follows that even those who consider themselves completely unworthy can also commit themselves to "spiritual procreation." This is because when they devote themselves sincerely to this work, they will be elevated to a new level, and their true essence, which is free of sin, will be revealed.123

7 He knew that whoever would inherit the Promised Land would first have to suffer exile, so he decided to forego the privilege of inheriting the land in order to avoid the price he would have to pay for it: Esau did not consider his migration to Mount Seir, which was beyond the borders of Canaan, to be exile. This was because God's covenant with Abraham stipulated that his descendants would be "foreigners in a land that is not theirs."124 Esau, however, did not wish to suffer the plight of a foreigner, and therefore settled permanently on Mount Seir.

This again underscores the idea that in contrast to Esau, we should never "settle" and get comfortable in exile; we should always consider its spiritual darkness as "foreign" and temporary. We should find permanence rather in matters of the soul, Torah and its commandments, and wait every moment for the time when Godliness will be revealed.125

12 Timna bore Amalek: The Talmud records that Timna was a member of a royal family, who sought to convert to the faith of Abraham but was not accepted. She thereupon went and became a concubine of Eliphaz, saying, "Better a maidservant to this nation than princess of another!"126

Her name, Timna, which denotes "withholding," suggests that she was a selfish person. King Solomon taught, "Do not withhold [al timna] good from one who needs it when the power is yours to bestow it."127 The Talmud interprets this verse as referring to those who withhold good even when they have nothing to lose from giving, such as those who refuse to allow others to pass through their fallow field.128 Timna's nature was to withhold even when she had nothing to lose by giving. She was therefore unworthy of converting to the family of Abraham, a family distinguished by a generous and giving spirit.129 She was likewise barred from marrying into the family of Jacob and instead became the concubine of Eliphaz. She bore a son who inherited her heartlessness—Amalek, the cruel enemy of Israel.130


[31] These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the descendants of Israel: Allegorically, the account of the rulership and deaths of the first seven of these kings131 alludes to the creation and subsequent collapse of the seven lower sefirot of the world of Tohu. This occurred "before any king reigned over the descendants of Israel," i.e., before the creation of the world of Tikun, which is associated with Jacob and his descendants. The deaths of these kings allude to what is known as "the shattering of the vessels."

The sefirot of Tohu lacked the ability to contain or absorb the "light," i.e., creative energy, of God. In their fragility, they shattered as soon as the higher light attempted to shine through them. The reason why these sefirot were so fragile was because they were immature and undeveloped. In this iteration, the sefirot were simple, one-dimensional manifestations of God's attributes and did not inter-include any aspect of their sister-sefirot. They were therefore incapable of accepting any content other than their own intrinsic one. Therefore, when the light of one passed into the other, their vessels shattered and "fell" into (what would become) the lower worlds, embedding these worlds with sparks of holiness concealed in evil husks.

These elements were not "evil" in the sense of being sinister; they simply expressed non-God-consciousness and selfhood. As such, they became an absolutely necessary and crucial element in the creation of the subsequent worlds, for in order for there to be free choice, there must be an element of "evil," i.e., non-God-orientation available as an alternative to holiness. This aspect of reality became more pronounced with each successive world, until, in our physical world, it became the dominant consciousness: the physical world is a given, G‑d must be proven.

In this sense, the "evil" derived from the shells or refuse of the world of Tohu is analogous to the shell of a nut or skin of a fruit that develops on the tree before the fruit. Without the shell, the fruit would be exposed to the elements and thus unprotected would not endure. Similarly, without the a priori self-consciousness descended from the mentality of Tohu, there would be little, if anything, accomplished by the descent of the soul into the body or the creation of this world

The task of Jacob and his descendants throughout history is to elevate these fallen sparks through sanctifying the material world.132

[43] The chief of Magdiel (i.e., Rome), and the chief of Iram: God told Abraham that the Jewish people would be subjugated over the course of history by four kingdoms. The final subjugation, which will immediately precede the messianic age, will be under Rome.133 Our present exile is seen as an extension of the Roman subjugation, since culturally and legally, Western civilization shares the values and worldview of ancient Rome.

This fourth subjugation consists of two eras, Magdiel and Iram, both of which refer to Rome:134

Magdiel, which connotes "towering over God," refers to the first era of the Roman exile, during which Rome actively opposes Godliness. However, through the refinement of the descendants of Esau during the exile, the loftiness ("Rome" in Hebrew means lofty) of "Rome" is revealed. This will lead to the era of Iram:

Iram, whom the Midrash135 describes as gathering treasures for the Messiah, refers to the time when "Rome" will no longer battle God but will in fact use its "treasures," i.e., its resources, to contribute to the unfolding of the messianic era.136