VAYISHLACH 5776

 

Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 Haftorah Obadiah 1:1-21  

 

Coming Home

 

Yisrael Shall Be Your Name

 

And Yahweh appeared unto Yaakob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And Yahweh said unto him, “Your name is Yaakob - your name shall no longer be called Yaakob, but Yisrael shall be your name;” and He called his name Yisrael. And Yahweh said unto him, “I am Yahweh Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; and the land which I gave unto Abraham and Yitzchak, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land.” And Yahweh went up from him in the place where He spoke with him. And Yaakob set up a pillar in the place where He spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink-offering thereon, and poured oil on it. And Yaakob called the name of the place where Yahweh spoke with him Bet-El (Bereishit 35:9-15).

 

The renaming of Yaakob at this point is strange. After all, Yaakob’s name was already changed after wrestling throughout the night with some mysterious being. In dealing with this question, the Ramban comments:

 

Your name is Yaakob – means that now you are still called Yaakob, even though the [heavenly] minister of Esau changed your name, since he wasn’t sent to you to change your name. However, from now on, your name will not be called Yaakob, but rather Yisrael will be your name.

 

There is an additional, but similar, difficulty that must also be addressed. “And Yaakob set up a pillar in the place where He spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink-offering thereon, and poured oil on it. And Yaakob called the name of the place where Yahweh spoke with him Bet-El.” Isn’t this redundant as well? Didn’t Yaakob already erect a pillar in Bet-El after the ladder dream? Hadn’t he already renamed Luz as Bet-El when running away from Esau? Why was it necessary to name the location Bet-El a second time? It’s not possible that the name was forgotten during the years Yaakob was in Padan Aram. After all, the name Bet-El is used in the previous section, right before Yahweh appears to Yaakob and blesses him - “And Yaakob came to Luz, that is in the land of Canaan, which is Bet-El” (verse 6). The Ramban deals with this difficulty as well and comments: “He called it that time and time again, to notify that it is true and correct, that this is a house of Yahweh, and the Shekinah always resides there.”

 

The Ramban offers local solutions to deal with each of the difficulties. But since the two problems are similar, insofar as both deal with a redundancy, we should at least consider the possibility of a broader solution that takes both repetitions into account.

 

In fact, if we broaden our focus, we will notice that repetition is quite common in the Yaakob story. In fact, it is so full of repetition that we would almost be surprised if Yaakob were named Yisrael only once. Let’s consider some examples. The Torah records Yaakob going to Laban twice:

 

And Yitzchak sent Yaakob away and he went to Padan Aram to Laban, son of Betuel the Aramean. (28:5).

 

And Yaakob went out from Beer-Shiva, and went towards Haran. (28:10)

 

Yaakob receives two divine messages calling upon him to return to his homeland:

 

And Yahweh said to Yaakob, “Return unto the land of your fathers, and to the land of your nativity and I will be with you.” (31:3)

 

“And the angel of Yahweh said to me in the dream… ‘I am the Elohim of Bet-El … Now arise, leave this land and return unto the land of your nativity.’” (31:11-13).

 

The account of Yaakob running away from Laban is repeated:

 

And Yaakob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon the camels and he carried away all his cattle and all his property which he had acquired … to go to Yitzchak his father to the land of Canaan. (31:17-18)

 

And he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the River, and set his face toward the mountain of Gilead. (31:21)

 

Of course, one can relate to each of the above repetitions independently as well by suggesting a separate solution to each alleged case of repetition. If successful, this would add up to the conclusion that there is no tendency towards repetition in the Yaakob story. On the other hand, we may concede that there is a trend. If so, we should search for a global solution that could explain the entire trend. In this week’s shiur, we will travel upon the second path.

 

2. Two Independent Missions

 

The dualism that we noticed throughout the Yaakob story seems to be rooted in a section found at the conclusion of Parashat Toldot. In the aftershock of the Blessing episode, Esau plans on killing Yaakob. These plans become known to Rebecca, who sends Yaakob to the house of her brother Laban. In order to explain to Yitzchak why Yaakob must leave, Rebecca claims to be upset about the Canaanite wives of Esau. An unassuming Yitzchak calls Yaakob in and sends him to the house of Laban in search of a bride. Based on this reading, the primary reason Yaakob goes to Laban is to run away from Esau; the search for a bride is merely camouflage.

 

We may suggest an alternative reading, however. Perhaps the search for a bride is not only camouflage. Maybe there are two independent purposes for Yaakob’s journey - Yaakob is sent both to escape Esau and also to find an appropriate wife. In fact, the Torah has different descriptions of the destination for the two. Rebecca instructs Yaakob to flee “to my brother, to Haran” (27:43), while Yitzchak sends him to “Padan Aram, to the house of Betuel, your mother's father” (28:2). Of course, Haran is a city in Padan Aram, and both Rebecca and Yitzchak are referring to the same destination. Nevertheless, this distinction may be a method of giving independence to each purpose of Yaakob’s journey.

 

This would explain why the Torah records Yaakob’s departure twice. The first account has Yaakob traveling to Padan Aram and corresponds to the quest for an appropriate bride:

 

And Yitzchak sent Yaakob away and he went to Padan Aram to Laban, son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebecca, Yaakob's and Esau's mother. (28:5).

 

The ensuing verses, which record Esau’s reaction to this quest, consistently refer to the destination as Padan Aram:

 

Now Esau saw that Yitzchak had blessed Yaakob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take him a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, “You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;” and that Yaakob listened to his father and his mother, and went to Padan Aram. And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Yitzchak his father; so Esau went to Ishmael, and added to the wives that he had Mahalat the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nevayot, to be his wife. (28:6-9).

 

The second account describes Yaakob as traveling to Haran: “And Yaakob left Beer-sheva and went toward Haran” (28:10). By repeating the departure of Yaakob, the Torah is stressing the dual nature of his journey. The destination of Haran is a clear-cut reference to refuge for the fleeing Yaakob.

 

The ensuing verses describe the first Bet-El encounter. They record the dream of the ladder and contain a divine promise. It is a promise addressed to a fugitive, vulnerable and alone. Yahweh will be with Yaakob to protect him throughout the journey and eventually Yahweh will bring Yaakob back to the Promised Land. Notably, not a word is mentioned about a wife or children. At this point, Yaakob erects a pillar, anoints it with oil, and renames Luz Bet-El.

 

Let’s sharpen the difference between the two purposes of Yaakob’s journey. The necessity to flee Esau is a direct result of the Blessing episode. Esau is thirsty for revenge because Yaakob stole his blessing and Yaakob is forced to run away. Might this be punishment for fooling his father and taking advantage of his vision impaired by age? Isn’t Yaakob made to pay for his actions when Rachel, the younger daughter, is switched by Leah, the elder daughter? In a broader sense, we may consider the flight of Yaakob as paradigmatic of exile, based on the dictum “ma’aseh avot siman la-banim” – the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.

 

In contrast, the need for a wife and the inappropriateness of a Canaanite spouse is totally independent of the Blessing episode or any possible wrongdoing on Yaakob’s part. Just like Yitzchak before him, Yaakob must find a bride in Aram.

 

These two themes continue in the house of Laban. On the one hand, it is there that Yaakob marries and raises his children. On the other hand, it is a time of tension and struggle with Laban, who tries to exploit him. Moreover, in last week’s shiur, we tried to show that threat of Laban was one of assimilation, one of the classic threats facing the Jew in exile.

 

The message delivered by the angel demanding that Yaakob return to Canaan makes reference to the pillar Yaakob anointed in Bet-El and the vow he made there.

 

And the angel of Yahweh said to me in the dream … I am the Elohim of Bet-El, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow. Now arise, leave this land and return unto the land of your nativity. (31:11-13)

 

The mention of Bet-El is a clear reference to Yaakob the fugitive; the time is ripe for Yaakob’s exile to end. Perhaps the other divine message calling upon Yaakob to return relates to other purpose of Yaakob’s journey - to find a wife and build a family.

And Yahweh said to Yaakob: “Return unto the land of your fathers, and to the land of your nativity and I will be with you.” (31:3)

 

The first account of Yaakob leaving the house of Laban makes reference to Yaakob’s wives and children. It refers to Padan Aram and the return to Yitzchak:

 

And Yaakob rose up and set his sons and his wives upon the camels, and he carried away all his cattle and all his property which he had acquired in Padan Aram to go to Yitzchak his father to the land of Canaan. (31:17-18)

 

It clearly refers to the mission on which his father had sent him. In these verses, there is no hint of fear or flight. Yaakob takes his family and possessions and simply heads back home. The second account is totally different.

 

And he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the River, and set his face toward the mountain of Gilead. (31:21)

 

Yaakob is fleeing once again; he is trying to escape Laban. He manages to escape only by virtue of divine intervention.

 

3. Completing the Journey

 

When Yaakob parts with Laban, he meets angels - malakhim. In the very next verse he sends messengers - malakhim - to Esau. The malakhim sent to Esau are certainly connected to the theme of flight and return. Does the reference to his meeting malakhim come to again show the dualistic theme of the journey?

 

The nocturnal struggle with the mysterious being, identified by our Sages as the heavenly minister of Esau, is also connected to the theme of fleeing Yaakob. He wrestles till the break of dawn and although he suffers injury, he survives. He is given the name Yisrael, "for you have striven with Yahweh and with men, and have prevailed" (32:29). Likewise, he survives his encounter with Esau himself. However, this aspect of his journey is not over until he withstands the episode of Dina and Shekhem.

 

Finally, his long weary exile is over. He must fulfill the vow taken at Bet-El and then he can return to his mother:

 

And Yahweh said to Yaakob, “Arise, go up to Bet-El, and dwell there; and make there an altar unto Yahweh, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.” (35:1)

 

They purify themselves of all the alien influences of their exile and travel to Bet-El, where Yaakob builds an altar. Then they mourn the passing of Deborah, the nurse of Rebecca. The Pseudo Yonatan comments that they were informed that Rebecca herself had passed away. Although the story ends on a somber note, the long journey of exile and coming home, of flight and return, is finally over. Yaakob has completed the Rebecca part of the journey.

 

The time is ripe to complete the Yitzchak aspect of the journey.

 

And Yahweh appeared to Yaakob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And Yahweh said to him, “Your name is Yaakob: your name shall no longer be called Yaakob but Yisrael shall be your name,” and He called his name Yisrael. (35:9-10).

 

Yaakob is once again called Yisrael, but his time within the context of the journey to and from Padan Aram, the purpose of which was to raise a family that would continue the tradition. He is blessed:

 

“Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; and the land which I gave to Abraham and Yitzchak to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land." (35:12-13)

 

He is named Yisrael again. Once more he erects a pillar and anoints it with oil. He names the house of Yahweh Bet-El anew. However, the context is totally different. The first time he was renamed, it was within the framework of Yaakob's flight from his brother; it came as a promise for support and protection. This time, it is from the perspective of the journey to build a family. It comes after Yaakob's return home, when most of Yaakob's children have already been born.

 

Yaakob does not actually return to Yitzchak until Binyamin is born. Only when the Torah announces, "Now the sons of Yaakob were twelve … these are the sons of Yaakob that were born to him in Padan Aram" (35:22-26) - only then is the Yitzchak aspect of the journey complete and Yaakob can finally return to his father.