In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.

Joseph Shulam: Wrestling With the Angel [2020]

The reading on Shabbat is Vayishlach (“and He sent”), from Genesis 32:3 – 36:43, and the Haftarah reading is from Obadiah 1:1 – 1:21. The New Testament recommended reading is from Matthew 2:13-23.

The Torah reading from Genesis 32:3 starts with Jacob and his family approaching the land that the Lord had given to his grandfather Abraham.

It’s been 21 years since he left the land of Canaan, and now Jacob has a family, at least two wives, and several children. He is a wealthy man who is now returning to the Land in order to claim his physical inheritance and his spiritual inheritance.

While living in the diaspora, Jacob’s family has not been exactly clean from idolatry. In last week’s reading of the Torah we learned that his family had taken the household idols from Laban’s house with them. However, Jacob’s biggest challenge was his inevitable encounter with his brother Esau.

Jacob must have well remembered why his mother Rebecca had wanted him to flee to northern Syria, to her brother Laban’s house. It was because Esau had decided in his heart to kill Jacob, following the death of Isaac. Now Jacob has to face Esau again, this time they are both successful men of means, each powerful in his own right.

Fear and wisdom joined together to form a strategy for the safety of Jacob and of his family, when the encounter with Esau was to take place. The first step that Jacob takes before his meeting with Esau is to send a group of messengers ahead (to spy out Esau’s feelings toward Jacob and his family).

Jacob wanted to know if after all these years Esau was still full of anger and still filled with murderous intent. The main reason for this first mission from Jacob to Esau was to gather intelligence and to give Esau a good reason to be interested in meeting with his brother Jacob.

This is how Jacob’s messengers speak to Esau:

“And he commanded them, saying, ‘Speak thus to my lord Esau, “Thus your servant Jacob says: ‘I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight. ’”’” – Genesis 32:4,5 [NKJV]

In other words, Jacob’s messengers tell Esau the following:

“I am honoring you my older brother and informing you that if we don’t meet and make peace you have much to regret. I am a wealthy man, and it would pay for you to receive me and my family graciously.”

It is a message of appeasement and a presentation of good reasoning for Esau to receive Jacob in peace.

Esau’s response to Jacob’s overture of desire to have peace and prosperity with his brother Esau was less than peaceful.

“Then the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’” – Genesis 32:6 [NKJV]

Esau’s response is, “I am coming to meet you, but I don’t trust you. “I am coming with an army of 400 to see you.” Jacob’s response shows that he understood exactly what Esau was communicating to him. Jacob responded by taking every precaution to protect himself and his family.

“So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies. And he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.’” – Genesis 32:7,8 [NKJV]

Jacob’s steps to divide his camp and spread the risk between two locations, some distance from each other, was a wise military strategy. In fact the text explains it clearly. If Esau should attack one of the camps the other camp could still escape and survive.

Netivyah | Parashat Vayishlach | Jacob Wrestles with the Angel, Gustave Doré (1832–1883)
Jacob Wrestles with the Angel, Gustave Doré (1832–1883)

For me this story is both inspirational and depressing. Here you have two brothers from the same father and mother, in fact twins. They inspire fear against each other because there was some wrongdoing between them. There was some appearance of a brother taking advantage of a brother. The fact that Jacob has to fear and take strategic moves to protect himself and his family and possessions from his brother Esau is depressing to me.

The hate that Esau still had for Jacob and the fear and guilt that was in the heart of Jacob after so many years of living in the diaspora is a sad commentary of the two brothers. The good thing is that blood is thicker than water and at the encounter of these two brothers at least for a moment, the past pain and hurt is forgotten and they fall into each other’s arms and hug and kiss each other.

There were a few moments in their history when the brothers were able to see beyond the hurts of their past and to just concentrate on the present.

Jacob prepares for this encounter by praying to God:

“Then Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you”: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, “I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”’”’” – Genesis 32:9-12 [NKJV]

Let us look at Jacob’s prayer and learn from it some important things about ourselves and about our Lord:

  1. The identity of God is clear and it is mentioned in the history of Jacob’s family in its relationship with the almighty God of Abraham and Isaac.
  2. My (Jacob’s) return to the land is a result of your instruction and prophetic request that I ought to return to my family and to my country.
  3. I am not coming to you O Lord with pride and with an attitude. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and all the truth which you have shown me.
  4. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother. You O Lord have given my father and grandfather Abraham the promises that my descendants will be as the sand of the sea, beyond numbering.

Jacob’s prayer is an example of humility and submission to the Lord, and it also includes a strong argument that says: ‘Lord you have made my forefathers and me promises that we will become a great nation.’ How can your promises be fulfilled if Esau takes my life and destroys my family!?

Before the meeting with Esau, God sends His angel to fight with Jacob by the Jabbok River. This is one of the most interesting texts in Genesis, and it is kind of purposely unclear in detail to create the mystery effect that it presents.

The reason for this encounter at the Jabbok is a genius touch of God’s grace. Jacob had to become Israel, he had to stop trusting in his own wisdom, in his cunning, and in his abilities, and to learn that the ultimate outcome of his life, and I would add, of all our lives, is in the hands of the Lord Himself.

The greatest challenge in our lives as disciples of Yeshua, is to stop trusting in ourselves and in our abilities, and our own hearts, and to put our hands in the hands of the One who parted the Red Sea and who allowed His children to cross over on dry ground.

Our challenge is to not let go of the hand of Yeshua when we are walking through the storm, and crossing through the dark cold eternal night, and to keep looking to God for His blessings and to not let go of His hand!

The event at the Jabbok River is a monumental event that has shaped Jacob and the entire nation of Israel and that continues to shape us as Jews and as disciples of the Messiah, up until this day.

When Jacob and Esau finally encounter each other this is what happened:

“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” – Genesis 33:4 [NKJV]

All of Jacob’s fears, at least at that moment, disappeared, and the enmity and bitterness that had existed between them went up in smoke, and all that remained for at least those moments was, “we are brothers, we are of one blood, we have all that we need, we need each other!”

Jacob continued to be humble and to honor his brother Esau, for the remainder of that encounter. This brotherly attitude however, didn’t continue for long. Moab and Edom didn’t cease their enmity toward Israel, and many future wars and much enmity was to remain between Israel and these neighbors.

What we have to learn from these two brothers is that the one who is really the strong one in faith and in character ought to show honor and respect to his brother. Jacob regained his footing before God and men at the Jabbok River, and in life, we all, as disciples of the Messiah and as children of God must wrestle with our own angel as we cross the river of our lives.

Joseph Shulam: A Conflict Between Brothers [2019]

The Torah portion reading in the synagogues this Shabbat is called Vayishlach, in English it would translate as “and He sent.” It is the story of two brothers, twins, born minutes apart. These two brothers were already in competition and seeking notoriety even before they came out of their mother’s womb.

This is what the text from last week’s reading says:

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.’” – Genesis 25:22,23 [NKJV]

These prophetic words are spoken by God Himself to Rebecca, before she gave birth to Esau and Jacob. With these words, God is summarizing the history of relationship between these two boys and the nations that came out from them.

The Vayishlach portion of the Torah is Genesis 32:4 – 36:43. The Haftarah (the reading from the prophets) is the prophet Obadiah, the whole book, all 21 verses. It is a short book, but with very special significance for today’s Israel and the millions of Anussim.

The Anussim are Jews who were forced, over the course of more than 300 years, to convert to Catholicism by the Catholic church. They were forced to change their names, to eat non-kosher food, to stop practicing Judaism, to stop keeping the Shabbat, and to stop celebrating the biblical feasts of the Lord.

Most of the Inquisition took place in Spain and Portugal, but it reached all the way to India and the Philippines and Surinam. Obadiah says that the Jews of Sepharad (the Iberian Peninsula, i.e. Spain and Portugal), will return back to the land of Israel and settle the Negev desert.

So, both the Torah portion and the portion from the prophets deal with “aliyah”, the return of the Jewish people back home.

Jacob worked 21 years for Laban in Haran, Syria. He was married to the two sisters, Leah and Rachel. He had already several children. How many children he had we don’t really know, because we don’t know how many girls were born to Jacob. We only know that the total of boys was 12.

Surely in between these 12 boys there must have been girls also born. We find out that Levi and Simeon had a sister called Dina, who was loved by Hamor, the son of the king of Shechem.

Today’s name of Shechem is Nablus. Herod the Great gave the city the name Nablus, but in the time of Yeshua it was called “Neapolis”, the same name as Naples in Italy. In both cases, the original name was distorted.

In the time of Yeshua, near the big city of Neapolis (which means “the new city”), there was the old city, that was actually a small village built on the ruins of the Roman city and called, “Sychar.” Yeshua is leading his disciples through Samaria. Going through Samaria was shorter, but much more difficult.

It is going on the ancient road of the patriarchs. It is a road on the very crest of the mountains in the central range between Beersheba and the valley of Megiddo, not far from Nazareth. It is cooler in the summer and much more wintery in the winter.

Next to the public water source of the village of Sychar, the well attributed to Jacob, Yeshua meets a Samaritan woman that came to drew water from the well. The interesting part in the opening of this story is that it was 3:00 PM when this Samaritan woman came to take water from the well.

3:00 PM is a strange time to come and take water from a public watering source. Normally, the women came to take water in the morning hours, not in the mid-afternoon, the hottest time of the day. This is why Yeshua and that women had some time and opportunity to have a discussion.

Let’s return to our own context of the Shabbat reading of Vayishlach. So, after the 21 years in the Diaspora in Assyria, Jacob has at least two wives, and at least 12 male children, and he has to face Esau, his twin brother.

Jacob was blessed by God, and became a rich man with much sheep, goats, camels, donkeys, and servants. Now Jacob and his family have to make aliyah and return to the land of Canaan. Esau is running about the country, and he too has become rich and powerful, and has hundreds of male servants.

Here is the big lesson from this Torah portion for me. Jacob could have found many reasons to engage Esau and his men in war. Jacob knows that Esau wanted to kill him. Jacob knew that Esau is a powerful person, with a large camp of men and a deep well of hate in his heart.

So, Jacob strategized and took measures to minimize the damage. If Esau destroys and kills one group of Jacob’s men, the other group can survive. Jacob took every possible defense tactic and was ready to give Esau his brother great wealth to appease him.

The thing that both Jacob and Esau didn’t imagine is that, when the two brothers saw each other, their hate and murderous intention would melt away and they will fall on each other’s neck, hug each other, and ask about the family.

Netivyah | Parashat Vayishlach | Jacob and Esau meet in an illustration from a Sunday school book from 1919
Jacob and Esau meet in an illustration from a Sunday school book from 1919

The kind attitude was there for a short season. From there on this enmity that started in their youth continued with their children and with their children’s children, even until today.

What can we learn from this story of two brothers, twin brothers, who started their competition and desire to be first even before they were born and saw the sunlight? We learn that the unrepented sins and unforgiving spirit can destroy families and create lifetime enemies that last generations upon generations, even thousands of years.

The roots of the Arab-Jewish conflict are in hate and hurt and unrighteousness between brothers. The roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict go to Ishmael and Isaac, and their grandchildren Esau and Jacob.

However, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation cannot work only when one side is seeking it, it has to be mutual, by all sides. It is sad that the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael can’t reconcile and learn from history. It is sad that their children didn’t reconcile to each other.

In place of loving and building together a better future for their children and grandchildren, they continued the hate until today, to teach to hate and kill and terrorize in place of recognizing that we are all children of Abraham, and Abraham is our father.

The prophet Obadiah sees the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict and describes it with the return of the captives in the diaspora back to land given by God to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob our forefathers. These words:

“…The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the South. Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” – Obadiah 1:20b,21 [NKJV]

What is the final scene of the history of the Arab Israeli conflict? Aliyah and restoration and final judgment of those who hate righteousness by those who love God’s righteousness and put their trust in His promises. In the end of this sad story the Kingdom shall be the Lord’s. Hallelujah!

Please pray and help us to open the gates of Israel to fulfill the promises and prophecies of the prophet Obadiah, and bring “The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad” back home to possess the cities of the South. Help bring the saviors to come to Mount Zion to do justice and restore the Kingdom of the Lord.

Jacob was willing to pay his brother Esau in our reading of the Torah this week, he was willing to make peace and live together as brothers, and raise their children together as family. It takes two to tango, but in the end, according to Obadiah, the Kingdom will be the Lord’s.

In the end, according to the New Testament, the Lord will be King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and the whole earth will worship as the prophet Zechariah said it:

“And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—‘The Lord is one, And His name one.’” – Zechariah 14:9 [NKJV]

Joseph Shulam: The Root of the Arab-Israeli Conflict [2017]

This week the Torah reading is Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43). This portion of the Torah has the main event of Jacob and his family returning back to the land God gave his grandfather Abraham, and his father Isaac.

Jacob left the land of Canaan alone and with nothing. Now, 21 years later, he is returning married with a few wives, 12 sons, and who knows how many daughters, servants, and riches galore. There is only one fly in the ointment – that is his brother Esau.

Esau has also grown and multiplied, and become powerful and rich. How shall the meeting between these two brothers proceed? Will this meeting be treacherous, and wouldn’t one need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best?

This is what Jacob does. He divides his large group of people and servants into two, and also divides his family into two, in order to minimize the damage upon encountering his brother Esau. What are the implications of this meeting?

Jacob has not forgotten why he had to flee to Haran. His brother had made up his mind to kill Jacob! Jacob knows that he did his brother wrong and that he has not forgotten it. I believe that Jacob has some guilt feelings for what he did to Esau.

Jacob is really afraid of his brother Esau, and he prepares a strategic plan to minimize the damage. Jacob is now willing to appease his brother and give him many gifts in order to fix the situation between him, and his family, and Esau, and his family. Jacob is willing to pay a proper price for Esau’s inheritance.
Jacob is doing his best to make peace with his brother.

The meeting is very dramatic, Esau embraces his brother. Esau at first refuses to take all the gifts, and actually receives his brother Jacob like a brother. I believe that the two brothers made peace both in their hearts and in reality. However, what happened after the two brothers died and their children continued to be neighbors in the land of Canaan?

This is the list of Esau’s sons (from the Wikipedia entry for “Elifaz”):

“Eliphaz was the first-born son of Esau by his wife Adah. He had six sons, from which Omar was the firstborn, and the others were Teman, Zepho, Gatam, Kenaz and finally Amalek, who was born to his concubine Timna.”

The first sons of Esau – we don’t hear much about them, they are what we call in Hebrew “parve”, which means “not meat and not milk”. However, the last son of Esau was Amalek. Amalek is the perennial enemy of Israel.

It has been so from the battle of Israel and Amalek in the wilderness of Sinai, when Israel was trying to survive the desert wandering of 40 years. This is the main big war that the children of Israel had during the 40 years in the Sinai wilderness.

Aaron and Hur had to hold up the hands of Moses all throughout that war in order to have the Lord’s victory over Amalek. In fact, Amalek is the only nation that Israel is commanded to delete their memory from the face of history. The command of God to Israel is:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore, it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.” – Deuteronomy 25:17-19 [NKJV]

This is a very serious command that God gives Israel. It actually is a command to do what today would be called an “ethnic cleansing” of the Amalekites, the descendants of Esau, the son of Isaac, and the brother of Jacob.

Why is the Lord being so harsh toward Amalek, and not toward the other sons of Esau? The text says: “…[He] attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.”

My guess is that Amalek was raised and educated to hate Jacob and his children! You see, the Torah makes a strange comment about Amalek – he was born to Esau’s concubine Timna. My guess is that Amalek was ignored and harassed by his other brothers, and maybe even by his father Esau, and now he has to make it up by being mean and cruel.

God abhors those who take advantage of the weary and the tired and the weak. Amalek did not show consideration, and winning was his bottom line. The how and the means that it takes to win a battle were none of his concern. This is clear in the story of King Saul, when he spared Agag the king of the Amalekites, and hundreds of years later, Haman, the descendant of Agag the Amalekite, is the prime minister of Persia/Iran, and he still wants to delete all the Jews from the Persian Empire.

This is the way that Amalek and his children were trained and educated – to hate, to ignore every standard of morality of right and wrong, and to get their way no matter how, who, or the number of lives will be sacrificed to achieve their desires.

When I think of the way that children in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria are educated, I think of Amalek and the deep infernal hate that they have toward Israel the sons of Jacob and the Jews. Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau his brother was a good thing, and it pacified five of his children, but the last one, Amalek, the son of the concubine, the Lord God ordered Israel to delete his memory from the face of the Earth.

Israel didn’t, and will not be guilty of ethnic cleansing or genocide, especially not after the Holocaust of World War II in Europe. I am praying for reconciliation between our Arab cousins and Israel and the Jewish nation.

Yehuda Bachana: Purity of Arms [2017]

Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

Shabbat Shalom, I am currently located in northern Israel doing my military reserve duty. I’d like to share a few brief points with you about this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayishlach.

I want to focus on two different points and verses, which complement one another. These points elaborate the idea of perfect faithfulness and gratitude as well as its application in a military sense. Further, I’d like to touch on how we live in the delicate balance between our faith life and the physical reality before us.

An incomprehensible gift

The first verse I want to discuss is about Jacob’s prayer to God, before his encounter with Esau, his brother. The prayer itself begins from Genesis chapter 32:10:

I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. – Genesis 23:10 [NIV]

I particularly love this verse as well as this entire section of the Bible. This is due to the fact that this particular passage is also a famous Israeli song. Jacob fled empty-handed and endured many trials an hardships. On his way back to the Promised Land, he remembered the one who protected him, sustained him, and even made him wealthy.

How long do we remember a favor that someone has done on our behalf? In order to be grateful from the bottom of our hearts, we must first admit the truth, which is that we would not have succeeded without their help.

We are people who need assistance and the gift we have received from Yeshua is incomprehensible. This was exactly how Jacob felt in the moment that he remembered all the blessings that God had bestowed on him. As it is written, “I am unworthy of all the kindness…” that God keeps giving to us. Furthermore, do we remember and recognize often enough our Messiah Yeshua, the One who gave us a gift that is unfathomable?

I repeatedly find myself stopping to ponder what wonderful works God is doing among us, especially while I am engaged in reserve military duty. Without a doubt, it was because of God’s promises that we were able to return to the Promised Land.

We reestablished the State of Israel, and now I am part of the army of Israel, fulfilling the prophecies of the Bible. It is not always easy to comprehend the full amount of blessings and gifts that God has given to us here.

Purity of Arms

Genesis 32:8 mentions that Jacob was in great fear and distress. Rashi interprets this verse in a fascinating way,

He was frightened lest he be killed (Gen. Rabbah 75:2, Tanchuma, Vayishlach 4), and he was distressed that he might kill others.1

“He was frightened” means that Jacob was afraid of death. Whereas, “he was distressed” means that Jacob might kill others (if indeed a war had broken out between him and Esau).

I think that this interpretation gives added value to the concept of an army. A healthy, moral, and quality army must take into consideration this point.

On the one hand, there should be a desire for life, while at the same time the unwillingness to kill. Soldiers must be afraid of death, with the desire of returning home after the battlefield.

There should be something to which we want to return, something that’s worth fighting for. God gave us the gift of life, and it is holy and good. Furthermore, we must internalize the sanctity of life towards others. A soldier who is bloodthirsty is degenerate. He seeks after quarrels, wars, and even death.

In place of this corrupt ideology, we must strive towards peace, quietness, and togetherness. However, even with bearing this in mind we realize that there is a real need for self-defense.

A soldier who acts out of preservation for life is considered ideal. He is a man who fears death and aims to prevent it from reaching his family, friends, people. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that there is an obligation to prevent unnecessary destruction and harm.

We believe and treasure the sanctity of life. For instance, no Syrian child would dare stand in front of a Syrian army tank and throw stones at it, but a Palestinian child does this against an Israeli tank because he knows the ethical difference between the two.

There is an extensive use of human shields by terrorist organizations found in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon. They do so by positioning their headquarters and their rocket lauchers within a civilian population, such as inside schools and hospitals. It is in itself indicative of their own belief in the high level of morality of the IDF. Otherwise, there would be no purpose in their use of human shields.

I am proud to be part of the Israeli Defense Forces. We strive to guard our homes and stop terror, while at the same time internalize the sanctity of life and apply the “purity of arms”.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.