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: Investing in the Unseen [2021]

Parashat Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43, is an interim conclusion of a relationship that started in the womb of Rebecca and in fact is still not really ended. However, in our Torah portion Vayishlach, we have a kind of reprieve, a period where the two brothers, Esau and Jacob, find a moment of reconciliation.

I believe that it is important for us to study this Torah portion for the very simple reason of understanding the dynamics of reconciliation between two bellicose parties. We have two brothers, twins, who didn’t start on the right foot from the very beginning of their relationship.

The text tells us:

“The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ 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]

Yes, two twins born by the same parents, Isaac and Rebecca. Born just seconds apart, but they started their competition and struggle in their mother’s womb.

Notice the words of the text from Genesis 25:22, “The children struggled together within her.” This text and this story might have almost made me a Calvinist, believing in predestination.

Praise the Lord that it didn’t make me a Calvinist. But, it did teach me that children are born and carry with them some of the character of their parents. Jacob is more like his father Isaac, and Esau is more like Rebecca’s side of the family.

We could blame the bitter hate and murderous intentions of Esau on the fact that Jacob sold him a bowl of soup in exchange for his inheritance. This event was a pivotal and an important event, but as the text has already told us the struggle between these two brothers actually started much earlier in the womb of Rebecca their mother.

This business deal between Esau and Jacob would not have happened if Esau wouldn’t have despised his inheritance. Here is the text and the context of this Black Friday sale:

“But Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright as of this day.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?’ Then Jacob said, ‘Swear to me as of this day.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” – Genesis 25:31–34 [NKJV]

Normally scholars condemn Jacob for this very great business deal between him and Esau his brother! I would like to first try to understand Esau in this context.

Esau is described in the book of Genesis as a person of the outdoors, a hunter, a rough character. Esau is interested in the physical, momentary, instant satisfaction of his appetites and passions. He is what in the 1960’s, when I was in college, we would have called a jock, an athlete, a person devoted to a single pursuit or interest.

From Esau’s own words we learn that he didn’t think much of tomorrow and of his future. He was living the moment. He was hungry now and at the top of his priority list was “give me food now!”

This is what Esau said to Jacob at that very moment: “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” In that moment there was no future for Esau. He is hungry, and tired, and his stomach was gurgling and he wanted to put food in his belly.

Jacob on the other hand is not thinking of the now and this moment. Jacob is considering, maybe in his subconscious and in his latent memory the struggle in Rebecca’s womb.

Maybe Jacob, in that hidden prenatal memory from the womb, remembers how Esau elbowed his way and pushed Jacob aside in order to come out first into the daylight. Jacob knows his brother well and he offers him the food in exchange for his birthright.

Contrary to Esau, Jacob was thinking of the future, of the promises that God made to Isaac their father, of the inheritance that Isaac received from his father Abraham. There is a principle that the world often uses in business: “The tangible is more secure than the intangible!” Buy something that exists physically rather than the promises of the developer or the visionary.

This principle is not always true, some of the richest men on the planet Earth started with a dream and sold that dream to also make others very wealthy. However, the first principle is much more secure. For every person who made much money buying a dream there are hundreds who paid believing in big success and ended with egg on their face.

Jacob is taking a gamble in this business. Jacob is giving something physical, a real bowl of soup, and receiving a promise an intangible inheritance that no one knows when or how or if it will actually materialize.

Now in our portion of the Torah from Genesis 32, Jacob is returning home to the land of Canaan, the land that was promised by God to Abraham his grandfather, and also the promise was repeated to Isaac his father. Jacob is not returning to the land of Canaan in the same way that he left this Promised Land.

When Jacob left the land in chapter 28 of Genesis, he was alone, full of fears, with only his backpack and his staff. He was running away from his brother’s intent to kill him after the death of Isaac. Now more than 20 years later, Jacob is returning with two wives, 12 sons and some daughters – great wealth.

However, the greatest weight on Jacob’s shoulders was not his wealth, or the number of sheep, goats and camels that he was bringing back to the land of Canaan. The greatest weight was his fear of his brother Esau.

Here in this intersection of crossing the Jordan river from east to west the memory and fears from Esau were there and were filling Jacob’s heart and mind with the same type of fear that he experienced years earlier when he left the land of Canaan. Jacob knew three things that are carnal and which are important for us to learn:

  1. The wonderful business deal that he did with Esau his brother was not considered fair and just by his brother. He made a good and fair business deal legally, but any judge in the land would have considered it taking advantage of a person at a moment when that person was weak and needy and not thinking straight. The principle that we all need to remember and put to practice is that there are things that might be legal, that you might have a solid ironclad signed and sealed contract in your hand, but they are still not fair or honest.
  2. Even though the deal with Esau was fair legally Esau didn’t think so for the following reasons:
    • Esau was experiencing a low and miserable moment in his life, he was hungry. Hunger can make people do some stupid things, like take a piece of bread without permission. Books have been written about such things.
    • This is no way to treat a brother!
    • The seed of discord and the feeling that I have been cheated by my own brother, my own flesh and blood will not be forgotten or leave you! It is the kind of feeling that will never leave you, even if you have moments of reconciliation. Moments like funerals of loved ones, and maybe weddings of your brother’s children!
    • You will always have no trust and no peace with your brother who took advantage of your weakness. What’s more is that your own mother helped your brother by cheating your old and blind father to give your blessing to your cheating brother Jacob.

Dear brothers of today in the Jewish nation and in the Arab nations around us, shouldn’t we today, after thousands of years have passed, the Jews, the sons of Jacob, and the Arabs the sons of Esau and Ishmael, not find a way to reconcile and restore our true brotherly relationship between us! Is it impossible? Couldn’t it happen?

I can honestly say that I believe that it can and ought to and should and might happen if we learn the following lessons from our Torah portion of Vayishlach.

Here is what happened when Jacob crossed the Jordan River with his family:

  1. He prepared for the worst. He took precaution, considering every possible scenario.
    • Jacob prayed to God and remembered and reminded himself in the prayer, of God’s wonderful promises and prophecies that He had promised him. This was a great encouragement to Jacob and gave him strength. This is something that we always ought to remember, God’s promises to us as His children. They are a source of strength and courage and hope on which we can rely and trust:

      “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]

    • He divided his camp into two halves to minimize his risk. In case one half of the camp is attacked, then second camp would have a chance to run and to survive. It is not out of mistrust in God and His promises that Jacob did this, but out of wisdom and strategy.
    • He sends messengers of peace and gifts to his brother Esau offering the hand of peace and reconciliation. By doing this there was a tacit confession that there was some irregularity in their previous relationship.
    • Jacob sends gifts to his brother, rich and expensive gifts, to show how much he respects and appreciates his brother Esau. This, in the Middle East, is a very important part of both peaceful business relationships and of the “Sulcha” (The reconciliation and peace-making experience).
    • Jacob spoke words that brothers ought to speak when there are problems between them:

      “But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, ‘Who are these with you?’ So he said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and bowed down. And Leah also came near with her children, and they bowed down. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed down. Then Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company which I met?’ And he said, ‘These are to find favor in the sight of my Lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’ And Jacob said, ‘No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.’ So he urged him, and he took it.” – Genesis 33:4-11 [NKJV]

      • Note the first scene. Esau sees his brother Jacob and the first thing that he does is run to meet his brother and embrace him.
      • Jacob introduces his family to his brother Esau. This move is of great importance for the establishment of peaceful trust between enemies. Make yourself vulnerable before your enemies in moments of negotiation for peace. If you don’t the distrust and the fears are only going to increase.

Blood is blood and reconciliation and peace between brothers is of great importance and never impossible. But, we learn from these biblical texts that when the conflict is so bitter and so long, even making a momentary peace like between Jacob and Esau his brother there is no guarantee that the next generations will not awake the demon from the bottle and release it to not only start the enmity over and again, but make it more bitter and violent than before by repeating some of the mistakes of the past on either or both sides.

There is much more that we can learn from these texts, but I skipped and jumped over one of the fascinating events in Jacob’s return to the land, the crossing of the river Jabbok. The river Jabbok is a small tributary from the east to the Jordan River.

Jacob is coming from the Northeast, and before crossing the Jordan River with his camp, he decided to cross the Jabbok river (in other parts of the world the Jabbok would not even be called a river. It would be called a creek).

Jacob decided to take his closest family during the night and help them cross the Jabbok. He helps Leah and her children cross and next Rachel and her sons cross and he is last standing in the small river getting ready to cross the river himself before morning.

Suddenly out of nowhere a man appears in the middle of that small river:

“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’” – Genesis 32:24-27 [NKJV]

This very curious event and the description of the struggle between that Man and Jacob until dawn is a source for many stories and speculations, and much of Jewish Kabbalah is occupied with this event. The most important for me right now is to stress that again in the book of Genesis we have a name change initiated and executed by a divine presence, a Man (God) who is struggling with Jacob in the waters of the Jabbok river, just before Jacob has to cross the Jordan River and have his encounter with his brother Esau.

What was the purpose of this struggle and the change of name from Jacob (which implies “second, a follower”) to Israel, someone who struggled with God and survived or succeeded? The purpose of this very interesting even, an event that many books have been written about it, in my opinion is not so complicated.

Jacob the man who is described earlier, as sitting in his tent and contemplating, is now a man who has struggled with God and was not defeated. A man who’s seed will carry the Abrahamic promises all the way unto the end of this Earth, and the ushering in of the New Heaven and the New Earth. The recreation of the world without sin, without illness, and with eternal peace.

As we pray several times each day:

“The One who makes Peace in the Heavens, He will make peace upon us and upon all of Israel! And we say ‘Amen!’”

Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Vayishlach [2021]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.

Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam and we are continuing the study of the Torah, the weekly portion, the same portion that is read in the synagogues. We are happy to have this opportunity to share with our brothers and sisters in Korea, from the regular Torah reading that is read in every synagogue in the world and to join together with you on Brad TV. God bless all of us and all of you in Korea.

Last week, we studied a portion of the Torah that ended at verse three in the Hebrew text of chapter 32 of Genesis. Jacob and his family had just left Haran, his father-in-law’s house, with his wives, with his flocks, with his wealth, with his riches, and he arrives at the river Jordan, almost to the river Jordan, and he got to the river Jabbok, and there in the dark, as he’s about to cross the river, he meets an angel, an angel of the Lord that he battles with, the angel of the Lord, and he held his own and he stands unwilling to let that angel go unless he gets a blessing, and the angel blesses him and allows him to continue his journey into the promised land, into the land that God promised to Abraham and to Isaac, his fathers, his grandfather and his father, Isaac.

Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau

But Jacob knows that he has to contend with his brother, he’s just minutes older than he is. They were twins in the womb of Rebecca, their mother, and Esau came first and Jacob came holding onto his heel. And Esau despised his inheritance and he sold it for a bowl of soup.

Traditionally, lentil soup. And so Jacob now is crossing the Jordan and he knows that sooner or later, he is going to have to meet with his brother, Esau. And he doesn’t want to have a war with his brother Esau and with his brother’s men. Jacob is described in an earlier portion, in last week’s portion, as being a man sitting in a tent, contemplating, a philosopher, a thinker, but not exactly a fighter.

Esau is an outdoors man and he’s a fighter, he’s a hunter. So Jacob wants to do everything possible not to have a military, physical war with his brother and with his brother’s men. So what does he do? And that’s how our portion of the week starts in Genesis chapter 32 verse three. Jacob sends messengers before his whole camp meets with Esau and his camp, he sends messengers.

The portion starts by Jacob sending messengers before his brother Esau to the land, which is on the other side of the Jordan from Canaan. Closer to the northern side of the Dead Sea. The country of Edom. And he gives instructions to the messenger that he sent, how to address Esau his brother.

We’re Still Fighting to Receive God’s Promise to Abraham

He says, “When you meet him, speak to Esau, my Lord, in this way, thus your servant, Jacob says.” I want you to understand this is the Middle East. And we are still, today, at war, combating the terrorism of the PLO, of the FLPLO, all the different factions of Palestinian Arabs, part of the greater Arab Nation. We’re combating them until this day, for the right to appropriate the promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The promises of the land are an eternal inheritance. We are still battling the same battle between Jacob and his descendants, and Esau and Ishmael, and their descendants that comprise the Arab Nations. So the relevance of this portion of the Torah is very great. So Jacob gives instructions, humble yourself before your enemy. He realizes Esau is his brother.

Is Esau Still Angry?

He realized that Esau is very angry with him. He knows that Esau had made a decision in his heart that when Isaac dies, I am going to kill my brother, Jacob. And he’s not sure whether that decision is still in force or if Esau has forgotten it. But he knows that he probably has not forgotten the hate that is so deeply embedded in his heart. And it’s still so deeply embedded in the hearts of our distant, distant cousins, the Arab Nations of today.

And even the Arabs who are Israeli citizens. We have over 2 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens. Some of them even serve in the army, their children serve in the army. But the enmity is still there. That’s why the relevance of this portion of the Torah is not only relevant for far back in history, but it is relevant for today as well.

What Jacob Has Been Doing

So he says to his servant, “You call Esau in my name, my Lord Esau, and you present me to Esau as your (Esau’s) servant, Jacob. And then you explain to him a little bit about the history of the last 21 years, how I dwelt with Laban until now.” Esau knows who Laban is. Laban is as much his uncle as he is Jacob’s uncle.

He’s the brother of Rebecca, their mother. So he has dwelt with Laban. He also knows how far away Laban lives, near Aleppo, in Northern Syria. Heron. “I dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now.”

Jacob Seeks Peace

“I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female servants, and I have sent to tell my Lord to tell Esau,” “my Lord,” he calls him, “that I may find favor in your sight,” in other words, find favor in Esau’s sight, or in plain English – “I want to make peace with you.” That’s what it means. I want to find favor in your sight. I want to make peace with you.

The messengers go to Esau and they return to Jacob and this report to Jacob:

“We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” – Genesis 32:6 [NJKV]

Not with women, not with children, not with flocks, not with servants, but with 400 men. Jacob’s reaction is: Oh, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of my brother, Esau. I’m distressed. The text says in verse seven, chapter 32, “I’m distressed.”

“So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” – Genesis 32:7 [NKJV]

Jacob Uses Strategy

And so he uses a strategy, he takes insurance, he divides his camp into two. If one half of his camp is attacked and he loses it, he still has another half of the camp of his family, of his flocks, of his wealth, secured. So he divides his camp, his people, his flock, his wives, his children into two halves. Including his camels and his herds.

At verse eight, he says:

“If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.” – Genesis 32:8 [NKJV]

And then, verse nine of chapter 32, I think is one of the most beautiful prayers in the book of Genesis:

“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.”’” – Genesis 32:9 [NKJV]

Right. Properly. Now this happened in Parashat Vayetze. It happened in Parashat Vayetze when Jacob is running away from his brother Esau according to his mother’s instruction, and that meeting after he saw the angels coming up and down the ladder, that meeting with God in which God says, “I promise you that you will go and you will return.”

Jacob Reminds God

And Jacob now reminds God in his prayer, which is okay, he doesn’t think God forgot, but he just wants to reassure himself in his prayer that God didn’t forget. “You told me, Lord, return to your country.” To your country. I want to stress that. Return to your country and to your family and I will deal rightly with you.

We’re Still Debating It

Until today, folks, this idea of whose country that really is, is still debated at the United Nations in the United States of America and in the offices of other international organizations in New York City. But in the Bible, the promise of this country, of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and up to the Litani River in the north and up to the river of Egypt in the south, is the promise of God in the Bible that is repeated more than any other promise in the whole Bible.

Inheritance Also in New Testament

And it is also in the New Testament. When you follow the word inheritance, even to our Gentile brothers and sisters, then you see that that’s the only inheritance we have in the Bible. It’s this piece of land. And Jacob continues his prayer. He says to the Lord, I want you to listen, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which you have shown your servant.”

Not Worthy

Now this phrase, all the mercies and all the truth, is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful promise, and wonderful, wonderful truth that needs to be reiterated, because this phrase grace and truth appears in the New Testament one time. In John chapter one verse 17, the law was given through Moses and grace and truth came from Jesus Christ.

But it appears more than 20 times in the Old Testament, but it’s translated with synonyms. Like in this case, in the New King James version, with mercy and truth. People are not usually aware enough to connect mercy and grace is more or less the same thing and is the same Hebrew word.

Jacob Prays to God

So Jacob, in verse 10, says to the Lord, God in his prayer:

“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and 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 32:10 [NKJV]

This is Jacob’s prayer. And it’s a very interesting prayer that we have so much to learn from. This whole reading, Parashah, is very rich, like every other chapter, every other verse in the Bible, but I want to stay on this prayer a minute. First of all, the humility that Jacob addresses God with, “I’m not worthy.” I’m not worthy of all the goodness, of all the mercy, of all the grace that you have shown me. I’m not worthy.

Dear brothers and sisters, I’m sorry that I have to step out of the political correctness and say things that may sound not politically correct. There is nobody in the Bible that in his prayer commands God to do anything. There’s nobody in the Bible, in that whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation that commands the Holy Spirit to do anything.

We should all approach the throne of grace with our prayers on our knees, in our beds, when we talk to our children, when we talk to the Lord through the Holy Spirit, with humility, like Jacob, like King David, like king Solomon if you wish, like the prophets.

Jacob Complains to God

What is this? We’re commanding God to do things for us? We’re commanding the Holy Spirit to do things for us? We should take the much humbler attitude of servants, not of masters. Okay, I’m out of the politically-correct approach. And I’m going back to the text.

Jacob prays that God will deliver him from his own brother, Esau because he’s afraid of Esau. And he reminds God of His promises. You promised me that you will treat me well. You promised me that you will take care of my descendants and that they will be many like the sand of the sea that cannot be numbered.

And now I’m here in this situation, I have to divide my camp into two halves for my safety, for my insurance, for my security. And then, after this prayer, Jacob goes to sleep. Chapter 32 verse 13, in the English:

“So he lodged there that same night, and took what came to his hand as a present for Esau his brother: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals.” – Genesis 32:13-15 [NKJV]

In other words, by the time he wakes up in the morning, Jacob had sent gifts to Esau. I think that what melted Esau’s heart was the humility, the simplicity, the honesty in which Jacob approached him. Not as somebody who owes him something, not as somebody who did wrong, but somebody who is humble and willing to be a servant of his elder brother, elder by a few minutes, brother.

Politicians Need to Learn to be Humble Like Jacob

That humility, politicians in the Middle East, need to learn. On both sides and on all of the sides. And also the politicians that are kind of the go-betweens, like England and France and United States, that are our friends and the friends of our enemies as well. But we are cousins. We are cousins of our enemies.

Yes. When Esau, his brother, meets Jacob, they meet and it’s a great moment. It’s a great moment. What happens when they meet? They fall on each other’s shoulders with tears. Property, land, promises, blessings, boom! They don’t disappear, they’re still there in the background. For that moment, they’re brothers. In that moment, they fall on each other’s shoulders and they kiss each other. It’s a great moment. It’s a great story.

You should read that text from Genesis chapter 32 verse three in English, to chapter 36 verse 43 in the English. Yes. The great moment, Jacob is wrestling with the angels after this prayer, with the angel at the river Jabbok, he’s wrestling with him after this prayer.

Then he goes, I would say, with God’s blessing, with God’s assurance to meet his brother Esau, and they fall on each other’s shoulders and they kiss each other. A wonderful situation. And the place where all this happens is in chapter 32 verse 30, it’s in a place called Peniel. Peniel means the face of God. A place called God’s face.

God’s revelation of his face to these two brothers who have hard feelings, who have hate, who have demands, who have complaints about each other. Jacob lifts up his eyes and he sees Esau coming and he puts his wives, Leah and Rachel, and the maid servants and their children up front at the beginning of the camp so that Esau will see Jacob’s family.

This is my family, my brother. These are my children, my brother. These are my wives, my brother. This softens Esau’s heart. Esau sees Jacob’s family and he runs toward him and he embraces him and he falls on his neck and kisses him and they both weep. I think that I’m going to end the teaching on this portion with this scene from chapter 33 of the book of Genesis. There’s a lot more things happening here.

Maybe I’ll do a second session for this portion. But for now, I’m going to stop here because this is a great moment and there’s so much that we can learn about each other as brothers. And even if we’re not physical brothers, we are brothers in Christ. We are brothers with the Presbyterians and with the Baptists and with the Pentecostals and with the Methodists and with everybody that confesses that Yeshua, that Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah that God so loved the world that he sent him, this Jew that was crucified with a sign over his head, Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.

We Are All Brothers in Christ

This king of the Jews is the king of peace. And we need to learn, yes, we may have arguments, yes, we may even have a history of hating each other and persecuting each other, yes. But we’re still brothers and we need to learn from this scene to open our arms and welcome each other and say, “Brother, yes, we may have disagreement, we may have hard feelings, but we are still brothers.”

And fall and weep with each other because God is one and the Messiah is one and He’s the only head of the church. We have no one else except Him. May God bless us all and may we learn to make peace between brothers from this section of the Torah. God bless you and Shalom.

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.
  1. http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8227/jewish/Chapter-32.htm