Questions and Concepts for Parsha Va'yishlach
(Genesis 32:4-36:43)

1. In Genesis 32:4 we are told that Jacob sent "messengers" ahead to meet his brother Esau. Some of the sages interpret this as "divine messengers" - that being angels. This is partly drawn from the previous parsha where are told of the two camps of angels that were present with Jacob at this time. (One group leaving him upon his entry into Israel, and the other taking over.)

2. Jacob's instructions for his messengers show him as being as "kind as a dove" as well as "wise as a serpent." He specifically mentions how he had been living with Lavan to show how the blessing he had been promised by Isaac had not been fulfilled. (Thus hoping to lessen Esau's anger over having been "tricked" out of this.) Their report to Jacob however, does not bring good tidings. Esau is clearly coming for revenge as he is accompanied by 400 men.

4. Jacob engages in a most peculiar "wrestling match." Jewish and Christian traditions differ greatly regarding the interpretation of who Jacob is wresting with and why. Christianity often regards this angel as some type of pre-birth appearance of Yeshua and/or "God Himself."  Jewish tradition holds a very opposing view, that this being is Samael, the guardian angel of Esau and incarnation of evil.

Contrasting these positions we have the following:

A. The prelude to this encounter must be considered:

  • Esau is contesting the birthright issue - after all, Jacob did use trickery to acquire it
  • In order to be "free and clear" of this, Jacob must get Esau to relinquish any claim
  • Esau is coming to kill Jacob
  • Jacob is in fear and prays to God for help

B. It is a fundamental principle of spiritual reality, that when "battles" are fought, there is an engagement in the spiritual realm before the physical fight takes place. (i.e., God had to "disabled" the gods of the Egyptians, Philistines, Amalekites, etc., before the Hebrew people could defeat them in the physical realm.)

C. It is another fundamental principle of spiritual reality, that when Jacob is "up" Esau is "down" and vice-versa. When one is increased (i.e., "blessed") the other is diminished.

D. Several problems are evident with the position that this being is Yeshua or God.

  • Why would either God or Yeshua come to fight with Jacob?
  • Why would either not be able to defeat Jacob?
  • Why would either physically injure Jacob?
  • Why would either refuse to give his name to Jacob?
  • Why would either have to leave because dawn was breaking?

All of these actions are indicative of an adversarial angel.

F. The text states that Jacob named the place of this encounter "Peniel" meaning "Divine Face" as he "saw the Divine face to face." This verse is used by some to show that Jacob wrestled with Yeshua and/or God. However this idea is based on a lack of knowledge of Hebrew idioms and spiritual concepts. To put is succinctly, "Though all that is God is 'Divine,' not all that is 'Divine' is 'God.'" As we see later, in Genesis 33:10, Jacob tells Esau that seeing his face was like seeing the face of the Divine. If we were to follow the non-Hebraic teaching consistently, those believing Jacob wrestled with God, should also believe God looks like Esau.

What this wrestling ("entwining") episode is in reality is a the defeat of Esau in the spiritual realm prior to that in the physical. The angel is forced to concede any lingering claims he (and/or Esau) have on the birthright. This is the "blessing" the angels confers on Jacob. ("Blessing" = to increase, and Jacob is increased [and Esau diminished] by this blessing.) The result in the physical realm is that when Esau meets Jacob, he does try to kill him, but surprises him by greeting him warmly. The battle had already been decided in the spiritual realm.

5. In chapter 34 we have the story of the rape of Dinah and subsequent act of revenge perpetrated by two of Jacob's sons. Were the actions of Simeon and Levi justified and correct or not? Consider that elsewhere in Torah, Phincas, the grandson of Aaron take it upon himself to kill two people for sinning and God speaks highly of him - calling him His "peacemaker." As for the men of Shechem, did they not have ulterior motives in offering to "merge" with Israel as they saw how they would financially benefit from this? Did they not also fail to properly punish the rapist within a reasonable amount of time? Despite these arguments, Jacob is clearly upset at the actions of his sons. Is his position correct? Are Jacob's sons guilty of not seeking righteousness in a righteous manner? What about the final argument of the sons in 34:31? Is God "silent" on this issue?

Consider this:
Jacob is considered to have been the "balanced" patriarch, holding both the merciful characteristics of Abraham as well as the strictness of Isaac. In Hebraic Kabbalah (the study of the hidden meanings of Torah) Abraham is seen as being on the "merciful right," Isaac on the "judgmental left," and Jacob in the "balanced middle."

This is reflected in the three steps he takes in dealing with the approach of Esau:

  • He sends gifts from the "right" side of mercy and giving
  • He takes  precautions from the "left" side of strictness and discernment
  • He offers prayer from the "middle pillar" of connection to God

Compare the above to the command in Deuteronomy 6:4 to love God with our heart (prayer and emotions), minds (intellectual discernment) and strength (physical giving).