“Jacob sent messenger-angels before him to Esau his brother.” Jacob is back in the Holy Land after a 20-year stay in Charan, where he has married, fathered eleven sons and a daughter, and acquired herds of sheep and cattle and many other possessions.
Thirty-four years earlier, he had fled the wrath of Esau after stealing the blessings from their father. Now he sends angels as messengers bearing conciliatory words to his brother. The messengers, however, return to report that Esau is “coming against you, and four hundred men are with him.”
He said: If Esau comes to the one camp and strikes it down, then the camp which is left shall escape.
Then he prays:
“O G‑d of my father Abraham, and G‑d of my father Isaac . . . I am unworthy of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant, for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.
“Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, [and strike] a mother with children.”
two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty she-donkeys and ten he-donkeys.
Alone at Night
When he saw that he did not prevail against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
[The stranger] said: “Let me go, for the day breaks.” And he said: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
He said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for you have contended with [an angel of] G‑d and with men, and you have prevailed.”
The sun had risen when the two brothers meet. Jacob’s family is arrayed behind him: the two “handmaids,” Bilhah and Zilpah, with their four children; Leah and her six sons; and, bringing up the rear, Rachel with Jacob’s youngest, six-year-old Joseph.
Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
[Esau] lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and he said, “Who are these to you?” [Jacob] said, “The children with whom G‑d has favored your servant.”
Esau protests that the gift which Jacob sent is really not necessary: “I have much, my brother; keep what you have to yourself.” But Jacob insists: “Now take my gift, which has been brought to you, for G‑d has favored me [with it], and I have all [I need].”
So come with me to Seir, says Esau. But Jacob stalls:
“My master knows that the children are tender, and the flocks and the cattle, which are raising their young, depend upon me, and if they overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die.
“Now, let my master go ahead before his servant, and I will move [at] my own slow pace, according to the pace of the work that is before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my master, to Seir.”
But Jacob never does get to Seir. He stays a while in Sukkot, where he “built for himself a house, and made sheds for his cattle.” He then settles near the city of Shechem, where he purchases a plot of land for 100 kesitah.
The Rape of Dinah
Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.
Shechem, the son of Chamor the Hivvite, prince of the country, saw her, and he took her, lay with her and violated her.
His soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke kindly to the girl.
Shechem spoke to his father Chamor, saying, “Take this girl for me as a wife.”
Chamor went to speak with Jacob. “The soul of my son Shechem,” he says, “longs for your daughter. Please give her to him for a wife.”
Indeed, says the Hivvite prince, this can be the start of a most productive cooperation between our peoples: “Intermarry with us; you shall give us your daughters, and you shall take our daughters for yourselves. You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be before you; remain, trade in it, and take possession of it.”
Jacob’s sons, who have in the meantime returned from the field, are greatly distressed and angered. Determined to avenge their sister’s honor, they reply to Chamor’s offer with cunning:
“We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us.
“But with this, however, we will consent to you: if you will be like us, that every male will be circumcised. Then we will give you our daughters, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people.
“But if you do not listen to us to be circumcised, we will take our daughter and go.”
Chamor and Shechem fall for the ploy, and convince the entire town to circumcise themselves.
It came to pass on the third day, when they were ailing, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took each man his sword, and came upon the city unresisted, and killed all the males.
They killed Chamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and they took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and left.
Jacob’s sons came upon the slain, and plundered the city that had defiled their sister.
Jacob is displeased by their action:
Jacob said to Simeon and Levi: “You have sullied me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites. I am few in number, and they will gather against me, and I and my household will be destroyed.”
To which they reply:
“Could we have allowed our sister to be made a harlot?!”
The Death of Rachel
News reaches Jacob that Deborah, his mother’s nurse, has died. A number of the commentaries see this as an allusion that Rebecca, too, passed away at this time.
G‑d appears to Jacob and reiterates the name change given him by the mysterious stranger with whom he had wrestled all night: “Your name shall not be called Jacob any longer, but Israel shall be your name.”
G‑d then blesses him:
“Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a multitude of nations shall come into existence from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins.
“And the land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land.
Jacob has now been in the Holy Land for nearly two years, making his way southward toward Hebron, where his father lives. He is nearly there when tragedy strikes:
There was but a little way to come to Ephrath, when Rachel gave birth, and she had a difficult labor . . .
It came to pass as her soul was departing—for she died—that she called [the child’s] name Ben-Oni (“son of my grief”); but his father called him Benjamin (“son of the right”).
Rachel died, and was buried on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. Jacob set a monument upon her grave; that is the tombstone of Rachel until this day.
The Torah then mentions Reuben’s sin in “violating his father’s marriage bed.” (The verse writes that “Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine.” But our sages are unanimous that this is not to be understood in the literal sense, but in the figurative sense of Reuben’s interference in his father’s marital life.)
At long last Jacob reaches Hebron and is reunited with his father. At this point the Torah also notes that Isaac dies at the age of 180 years, and is buried by “Esau and Jacob, his sons.” (Chronologically, this places the death of Isaac 22 years hence, long after most of the events of the next Parshah; indeed, in Genesis 37:35 we find Isaac weeping with Jacob over the apparent loss of Joseph.)
The Clan of Esau
Vayishlach concludes with a detailed account of Esau’s world: the names of his wives, children and grandchildren; the chieftains of his clan, which developed into the nation of Edom; and the family histories of the people of Seir, among whom Esau’s family settled and intermarried.
It also lists eight kings who “reigned in Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.”